The backward system of society pushes another dream-filled boy to the curb, and with his aspiration suppressed, Myles is at risk of falling into the attractive arms of gang life in Joshy Lee’s Boy In The Corner.
Boy In The Corner takes place in a desolate, post-industrial wasteland in Britain, where the unemployed are stuck together in government houses and flats, spending most of their days in dark, damp living rooms trying to avoid using their electricity and heating as much as possible. The children don’t seem to last long in school, they either get kicked out, walk out, or simply don’t bother going in at all. Their idea of amusement is to play sports, swear, and fight with friends. When it’s time for a bath they boil the kettle and use the hot water to wash in the tub.
This is Ken Loach country, with its working-class characters from the inner city-driven narrative, but there is also a lot of Mike Leigh that creeps in too with scenes that must have been improvised because they feel almost too real. A burning need is the first thing that we see in our protagonist Myles, he needs a father, he needs some guidance, and he needs to fit in somewhere. Myles, played by young Cyran Vergara in a performance that seems more like self-growth than actual acting, is a teenager who lives in Gloucester with his mum and sister. Because his mum works long hours to make ends meet Myles is often the sole caregiver to his sister. His young teenage friends all live close by and get along like all teenage friends do, with long silences that have no reason, and conversations that contain no meaning yet are peppered with swear words, insults, and occasional laughs.
With very little future ahead of him, it’s easy to understand how Myles falls under the spell of the local gangs. They are friendly, cheer him up, pay him good money for small jobs, and groom him. They tell him he can hang around again and soon Myles has a surrogate family, a new social group, and a better self-image, especially when he starts making money. All of this hits home as it could be taking place in any British city right now. Poverty, absent fathers, and dangerous streets make gang membership seem like a safe haven, and soon Myles is copying the bigger guys, preening, disregarding his mum, and getting into more trouble.
Filmed in sumptuous black and white, Boy on The Corner feels like it wants to be a documentary, and director Lee seems fascinated by the happenings of everyday life. He has made a fine film that seems effortless in the way it insinuates itself into these families’ lives and touching in its portrayal of how fiercely Myles, despite everything thrown at him, tries to remain a responsible and caring young man. For 96 minutes the movie is taut, tense, and at times relentless, thanks in part to the great Steadicam work, particularly during the basketball scenes that become excitingly kinetic. The cinematography by Temas Apor Mendes captures each little nuance and sets the tone perfectly. Instead of feeling like an outside observer looking in, the intimacy and closeness that he creates with his shots make the audience feel like local observers looking out. We get a sense that director Lee knows this world only too well, the dialogue written by himself and writing partner Luciano Piero D’Amato feels completely, and hypnotically, authentic.
With its main focus on poverty, gang culture, and the struggles of today’s young people, Boy In The Corner doesn’t claim to have all of the answers, but it does lead to serious conversations long after the end credits have rolled. Director Joshy Lee has created a genuine, modern classic.