In Kidulthood's Britain, our teenagers are reckless hedonists, living for their moment under a whirl of as much sex, coke, blowjobs, weed and booze as they can cram into their "Oh my days!" lives. They're having a laugh. However, look behind the blurred sheen of peer-pressure narcotics and I-fell-asleep-during-sex-ed relationships and you'll find guns, baseball bats, muggings, booze and teen pregnancy. For these adolescents, you need to have a tragic experience to learn about the very notion of 'consequence'.
Based in West London, where rich and poor rub shoulder to shoulder, treading the same playgrounds in very differently priced shoes, Menhaj Huda's film opens in the local Comp. Bone-breakin', bloodied and unbowed, it's Grange Hill with guts as rival gangs tear into each other, leaving undeserving victim Katie (Rebecca Martin) so beaten up and distraught that, later that night, she's hung herself. With a day off school in her memory, the parents hope for reflection and remorse. As if.
Speaking a language alien to anyone born before 1990 and featuring a rare celluloid happy slapping, the 16-year-olds of Kidulthood (the title refers to that awkward phase when you're not a child, not yet a grown-up...) are their own, irreverent culture. Smashed on cocaine and grog, Alisa (Red Madrell) says of the unwanted baby growing inside her, "I'd get so fat if I kept this," while her buddy Becky (Ray Winstone's daughter, Jamie) gives wealthy city boys head for drugs. Shot in guerrilla style, with cast and crew weaving through actual Oxford Street crowds, the film's immediacy (including À Bout De Souffle-like passers-by eyeing up the camera) is striking. The actors, too - many of whom are making their cinematic bow - bring uncomfortable authenticity.
Unfortunately, as the repercussions of their on-the-fly life catch up with them, the film morphs into public service announcement territory and an OTT ending that shuns subtlety for "Just Say No" sermonising. All of which is a shame. As, until then, in refusing to ask whether the blame lies with the government, society or the parents, Kidulthood works just fine as a snapshot of Brit teen life. After seeing it, you'll never look at the kids on your bus in the same way again...