Queer love and an appetite for self-destruction

Justine, directed by Jamie Patterson, is on Curzon Home Cinema. Reviewed by Georgina Gnan.

This Brighton-based love story is about a self-destructive young woman struggling with alcohol addiction. The opening scene dives straight in as Justine (Tallulah Haddon) awakes in the bath to someone relentlessly banging on the door. She staggers out and opens the door to the landlord, who demands this month’s rent. Immediately you wonder how she got herself into this situation.

The next scene jumps back a few months and we are introduced to Rachel (Sophie Reid), a student with a bright future, in a very original ‘meet cute’. Justine and Rachel quickly fall in love. After an intimate and tasteful sex scene, their budding romance is portrayed by some charming but cheesy Hollywood romcom style scenes, such as walks along the beach. The contrast between these scenes in which Justine is visibly giddy with love, and those that deal with shoplifting, alcohol addiction, probation, and being estranged from her family, provide the film with a combination of ‘good vibes’ and sombre, heart-breaking moments. This makes it particularly moving and interesting, and encourages the viewer to feel sympathy towards Justine after seeing her vulnerable side.

Justine is a mysterious character, revealing very little about herself even to Rachel, who says: ‘tell me something about you. Something I don’t know. I want to know everything.’ Justine is as evasive in her reply as she is in her mandatory counselling sessions: ‘There’s nothing to know. Let’s just say the past can be a terrible thing and I don’t particularly want one.’ She is clearly aching, and struggles to communicate what it is that she is feeling. Turning to alcohol brings her relief: ‘when I drink I really love myself. And I feel safe.’ She displays a strong self-hatred and lack of hope for the future in her conversations with Rachel, her counsellor, and her mother. The support – or lack of it – offered by the people around Justine encouraged me to reflect on what I might have been able to do to ease her pain in their place.

Haddon is outstanding in the lead role, and the chemistry between her and Reid is undeniable. It is refreshing to watch a queer love story where being LGBTQ is not the focus. They are not hypersexualised, and it’s not about either of them questioning their feelings or their sexuality, or any abuse they may receive due to the stigma surrounding a non-heterosexual, cisgender identity, as is so often the case in films about LGBTQ people. They are just two people who fall in love, and happen to be the same gender.

It is interesting that no reference is made to how her identity may affect her mood and substance abuse. Research shows that the LGBTQ community is strongly impacted by alcoholism and by mental health problems. In my own studies I found that over half of LGBTQ respondents to a survey were at significant risk of suicidal behaviour and 80 per cent of participants showed symptoms indicating mild depression or anxiety. It was also not uncommon for young LGBTQ people I interviewed to talk about a lack of acceptance from their family. So could it be that Justine’s strained relationship with her mother was linked to her identity in some way?

This gripping storyline is accompanied by some beautiful cinematography, with camera angles incorporating interesting framing devices and incredible shots such as that of Justine and Rachel running across the beach, which make the film a pleasure to watch. Although the soundtrack has been criticised for being over-reliant on sad songs to portray Justine’s descent into alcohol fuelled self-destruction, I felt that the songs used were powerful. One line of a song towards the end is ‘there’s a monster beside me, and he won’t let me rest’.

Depression and alcoholism are monsters that so many people struggle with and can’t find any relief from, and this film is a very intriguing portrayal of one person’s such struggles. I would highly recommend watching this lost soul’s queer love story.

- Reviewed by Georgina Gnan, Royal Holloway University of London

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