Binge-r #102: The Innocents + To All The Boys I've Loved Before
THE INNOCENTS S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
“I’ll never tell you who to be,” vows one devoted teenager lover to another, but in this supernatural British mystery passionate pledges are tested by the truly inexplicable. That fracture makes for a tender, teasing Netflix series that sequences anew the DNA of young adult storytelling, creating an appeal that can play outside the age range of the young protagonists. For June McDaniel (Sorcha Groundsell), turning 16 means running away from the strict father, John (Sam Hazeldine), who keeps her under constant supervision, in the company of her secret boyfriend, Harry Polk (Percelle Ascott), who labours under his own domestic demands. But her birthday brings the onset of unexpected powers, and the attention of those who seemingly already know about them.
Without directly spoiling what happens at the end of the first episode, it’s a matter of June not being who she always has been, which forces Harry to look at her in a different light. That’s what Hania Elkington and Simon Duric’s show always comes back to: the unexpected friction between first love and the otherworldly ramifications of June’s transformation. The narrative’s pulse remains the star-crossed lovers, whose gulping kisses upon absconding together have a swooning happiness. Many of the moments between them, such as June surreptitiously putting on lipstick so she can kiss a note she slips to Harry and then quickly removing it, are notably old-fashioned, removing them from any identifying era.
The prevailing mood might well be Gothic science-fiction, accentuated by the epic landscapes of Norway, where a scientist, Halvorson (an understated Guy Pearce), lives in a remote locale and researches others who share June’s rare ability. He’s first seen trying to save a desperate escapee, and it’s indicative of how The Innocents flips around expectations. June isn’t a superhero in the making and the idea of weaponising what she’s capable of isn’t in play – it’s a matter of making sense of the unimaginable. Likewise the teen’s pursuers are mostly desperate individuals, whether it’s John or a Norwegian associate of Halvorson, and their own stories are slowly woven through the central strand.
Netflix has had distinctly mixed fortunes reaching out to teenagers, but it mostly gets it right here. The series doesn’t deny June and Harry’s youth, it amplifies it. Sometimes that means really bad decisions that speak to their naiveté – see for example the first house they go to in London – but there’s also the way in which they pause to sweetly reaffirm their mutual dedication, or come down from a scary situation with a silly joke. The plot can meander at points, but the stakes are always in the grasp of these two besotted young people, who are exceptionally well played by Groundsell and Ascott. The kids are more than alright, and so is The Innocents.
>> Other Reading: For The Monthly I wrote about one of the best new shows of the year, the languid menace and consumptive crimes of the Amy Adams-led Sharp Objects on Foxtel Showcase [full review here].
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Netflix, 2018, 99 minutes): A homage to multiple generations of the teenage romantic comedy – from Sixteen Candles to 10 Things I Hate About You – Susan Johnson’s adaptation of Jenny Han’s 2014 book distinguishes itself through a generous honesty and accessible emotions. The contrived plot is boilerplate, with low-key high school student Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) finding herself in a fake relationship with dreamboat fellow student Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) for their mutual social gain. The film has cafeteria crises, a wise-cracking best friend and a romantic pep talk from an 11-year-old, but it’s less about adolescent rivalry than the need for teenage connection and heartfelt sustenance. The manufactured romance naturally becomes real, but it plays out with superior sweetness. “You were never second best,” Peter tells Lara Jean, and once you get past the fact that Centineo – in another classic teen flick trope – is too old for his role, it’s easy to give in to the film’s buoyant, blithe hopefulness.
Also New on Netflix: Driven by information-laden tracking shots and cross-border intrigue, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958, 95 minutes) is one of the great film noirs, with Charlton Heston starring opposite the director, Janet Leigh, and Marlene Dietrich; Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson (2016, 117 minutes) is a marvellous paean to personal creativity and contentment, with Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani as a New Jersey couple.
New on SBS on Demand: Bryan Cranston is the reason to see the uneven Hollywood biopic Trumbo (2015, 124 minutes), resolutely playing the titular blacklisted 1950s communist screenwriter who avoided jail and eventually flourished.
New on Stan: Want to see Tom Cruise die repeatedly? Doug Liman’s science-fiction action film Edge of Tomorrow (2014, 114 minutes) is for you, with Cruise and a fierce Emily Blunt as soldiers trapped in an alien invasion time loop; bleak, detailed, and of the moment, A Most Wanted Man (2014, 122 minutes), is a quietly compelling John le Carre adaptation, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a German spymaster operating in the Age of Terror.
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