IT MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS OF SOUNDTRACK TO SIXTEEN!
Cinequest has a huge lineup and there are films for everybody’s taste. Soundtrack to Sixteen is a coming-of-age story that focuses on Maisy, a young teenage girl that doesn’t want to be left out and hasn’t had any romance experience, and Ben, a nerdy boy who wants to become popular all of a sudden. Regular teenagers that are dealing with regular teenager problems, but Soundtrack to Sixteen adds something adorable about these characters, even if it fails to deliver something refreshing about their story.
Directed by Hillary Shakespeare, Soundtrack to Sixteen is a sweet film that exposes its main characters insecurities by narrating their thoughts out loud and by artistically presenting their advance in time chapters with cartoonish handwriting. It’s what brings the viewer closer to them and provides a gentle engagement with their experiences throughout the film. Unfortunately, Soundtrack to Sixteen doesn’t step up to achieve the notoriety it so clearly seeks, relying on amateurish performances and simplistic camera work. Although extremely adorable, Gino Wilson and Scarlett Marshall have yet to mature to make their characters more absorbing to audiences around the world, even if this first gig is an endearing one. The narrative has some interesting outlines, but eventually Soundtrack to Sixteen falls into the same clichés we are so accostumed to see in coming-of-age films.
Supporting characters don’t have much to work with, and the film eventually lacks a good grip to make audiences feel connected to them. Even though Shakespeare tries to bring these main characters to a place where the viewer feels empathetic with them, it is not enough to leave a mark. By letting us savour the two different approaches of both Maisy and Ben individually and some extraordinarily awkward moves in propeling comedy, Soundtrack to Sixteen is entertaining and shows signs of that delicious British humor, that manages to liberate and hide some of the films most obvious flaws. Another aspect that becomes surprisingly interesting is the way Maisy and Ben are not eager to rush some experiences, even though peer pressure clearly takes a toll on them. If anything, Shakespeare tries to normalize teenage experiences in a way that the audience can actually understand their feelings about this internal and social conflicts and garnishes it with adorable narrated thoughts. These particularities help Soundtrack to Sixteen have its own soul, but ultimately never astonishes.
There is definitely talent here, but the vision still needs polishing in bringing some refreshment to an oversaturated landscape of coming-of-age stories. Maybe some Sex Education inspiration could have helped Soundtrack to Sixteen making bolder decisions and uplifting these appealing leading characters by focusing in the hormones that compose their day-to-day lives. Sweetness is something that helps decorate a story, but is not enough to survive the current demanding cinematic scenery, and simplicity here just removes the charisma that Soundtrack to Sixteen could easily achieve if it explored its assets better.
But as a first gig for everyone involved, Soundtrack to Sixteen shows how this creative team is just brushing off the dust around the shoulders and is ready to keep up improving their work. A film that is sweet, but doesn’t leave a mark to make it memorable to the general public and is affraid of stepping up its game to be bolder and even more engaging.
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Title: Soundtrack to Sixteen
Original Title: Soundtrack to Sixteen
Director: Hillary Shakespeare
Runtime: 85 min.