EIFF 2019: Balance, Not Symmetry
A blistering mainstay of Scottish rock music, good ol’ Biffy Clyro’s (blame Ant and Dec for that one!) ferocious energy and disarming tenderness scattered throughout their back catalogue, has regularly had me salivating. So it was inevitable that the prospect of the band crafting an original film soundtrack would pique mine and many fellow fan’s interest. So is Balance, Not Symmetry worthy of the main stage? Or is it a cringe-worthy affair arguably on par with Matt Cardle covering ‘Many Of Horror’ for an X Factor winner’s single?
Both a well-intentioned celebration of artistry and grief-stricken drama, the spotlight is firmly on privileged Scottish American student Caitlin (Laura Harrier) whose burgeoning talent showcased at the Glasgow School Of Art, suddenly grinds to a tragic halt with the passing of her father. The all-consuming grief is inevitably echoed by her distraught mother Mary (Kate Dickie), who struggles to bear the idea of Caitlin leaving her in their spacious home alone regularly, continuously on edge as her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic.
Feeling immense pressure as she enters her final year, Caitlin’s shreds of comfort lie in the sunny disposition of best friend Hannah (The Florida Project standout Bria Vinaite) and the blossoming relationship shared with fellow art lover Gavin (Martin Bell), whose growing influence leaves her re-evaluating her stance on life.
Not content with crafting superb songs. Biffy frontman Simon Neil has had a hand in the scriptwriting process with director Jamie Adams and whilst their shared motivations hardly lack clarity here, the film doesn’t always possess a cool authenticity on par with what would normally be associated with the heavily involved band.
Balance is undoubtedly at its best when examining the raw emotions pouring out of its characters, with Adams’ emphasis on improvisation serving well as the intimacy of these scenes swell, with his beautifully observed aerial shots of Glasgow aiding proceedings. Yet when it seeks inspiration through its creative vein as we bare witness to the odd stilted lecture speech, it’s not quite as effective with the execution sometimes coming across less big-screen and more university project.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the Clyro soundtrack that unlocks the power of its familiar plotting, enabling the film to drive through its various missteps with sheer force. From the heartfelt delicacy of ‘Adored’ to convey the pain that lingers, to more thumping offerings like ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Tunnels and Trees’, proving fitting efforts to heighten the carefree vibrancy of its youth. It’s a relief to find that it mostly avoids slipping into extended music video territory, only sporadically feeling disconnected and intrusive to the sequence that it serves.
Much of the film’s gravitas lies in Kate Dickie’s well-measured performance as Mary, who skilfully expresses the inner trauma and clear isolation felt by her grieving maternal figure. Elsewhere there is a sweet camaraderie anchoring the narrative through Laura Harrier and Bria Vinaite’s on-screen friendship, who collectively pour believability and raw energy into ‘Balance, dancing their way through clubs and also their various feelings.
Not top of the mountain, yet hardly a case of get in the sea, Biffy’s first cinematic foray Balance, Not Symmetry is a well-intentioned if unrefined affair, where you end up wishing the narrative finesse just measured up to the anthemic music underpinning it.
Directed by: Jamie Adams
Cast: Laura Harrier, Bria Vinaite, Kate Dickie