Writer and Director: Fyzal Boulifa
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
This new British film, the first feature by Fyzal Boulifa, is an intimate portrayal of two working-class mothers wrenched apart by tragedy. Bleak and brittle, Lynn + Lucy casts an impartial eye on a close-knit community bolstered by gossip and retribution.
Lynn has just begun a new job. She is 26, and is working in the local hairdressing salon in a role usually reserved for school leavers, but with her husband laid up with an injured leg she needs the money. In actual fact, this is her first job.
She’s interviewed by Janelle who she once knew at school, and who, along with her best friend Lucy, she used to bully for being Asian. With Janelle now showing Lynn the correct way to sweep up hair, the tables have turned. These early scenes are full of comedy, and reminiscent of Mike Leigh with Janelle full of nouveau riche scorn for her new employee.
The comedy continues when Lynn and Lucy go on a girls’ night out to a club, and when they bump into another school friend they pretend that the rumour that they were lesbians lovers is true. Of course, this is not correct as both live with their male partners and children. Lucy lives with Clark, a man a few years younger than her, and their baby boy Harrison. It is when Lucy confides to Lynn that she may not love her child in the way that mothers should that the film moves into darker territory.
And with this early information it comes as no surprise to the viewer when the baby dies, but what follows is less surprising. The women in the salon try to discover who’s to blame – is it video gamer and martial arts junkie Clark or is it good time-girl Lucy? Suddenly, in the spotlight as Lucy’s best friend, Lynn grows in confidence and stature, and she thrives with the attention.
Boulifa’s view is neutral here, leaving the viewer to judge with their own morals, though often, in its close-ups of the characters, it is hard to forget that the camera is there. The 4:3 aspect ratio that Boulifa uses frames the faces of his actors precisely, almost giving the impression that they are talking monologues directly to the camera. The return of 4:3 is in full swing, and Robert Eggers uses it in great style in The Lighthouse, also showing at The London Film Festival.
4:3 is also an old TV format, and Lynn + Lucy has echoes of the old television Plays for Today in its narrative and, apart from the mobile phones, this story could have happened at any time. In that way it also harkens back to the old kitchen sink dramas, with their strong female characters at the forefront.
It takes a tragedy for Lynn to find her strength, and Roxanne Scrimshaw gives an excellently understated performance, while Nichola Burley as Lucy does well with a character who never is allowed to open up. There is good work, too, from Jennifer Lee Moon as the owner of the salon and Kacey Ainsworth as Lynn’s interfering work colleague.
Apart from pop songs playing on the radio in the salon, there is no music in this film, not even over the final credits, underlining the detachment of this elegant director. It may be too cold for some, but Lynn + Lucy still shines bright.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 2 October to 13 October