Balance, Not Symmetry

The 73rd Edinburgh International Film Festival features many world premieres, among them BALANCE, NOT SYMMETRY. As the People’s Gala film, all tickets were £5, which is fair, because charging more than that for this trite movie would be extortionate. 

The film was introduced by director Jamie Adams, who co-wrote the film with Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil. Adams spoke about how the idea for the film first came to him after the death of his mother; moving though this is, his grief fails to translate onto the screen.

” It’s almost as if [they] thought that if they played the music loud enough, it would disguise the film’s shortcomings. As a result, we essentially get a 96-minute Biffy Clyro music video.”

Adams also mentioned that parts of the film were improvised, and it shows. The dialogue is mostly wooden or and aimlessly clichéd. The characters lack chemistry, indeed they are lacking in genuine characterisation altogether. The involvement of Biffy Clyro in the film’s creation is certainly attention-grabbing, but it fails to save a rather empty film. It’s almost as if the makers of BALANCE, NOT SYMMETRY thought that if they played the music loud enough, it would disguise the film’s shortcomings. As a result, we essentially get a 96-minute Biffy Clyro music video. Great for fans of Biffy Clyro, less so for general viewers.

Grief is the central theme of BALANCE, NOT SYMMETRY. Laura Harrier (Liz Allan in 2017’s SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING) plays Shirley, a Scottish-American art student who recently lost her father. Both she and her mother (played by Kate Dickie) struggle to come to terms with their grief, but Shirley seeks to find cathartic release through her art. The fact that her art is amateurish at best (looking more like the doodles of a child) is ignored; instead, we are supposed to view Shirley as a great, Jackson Pollock-esque master of art, through whom creativity flows like lifeblood. If you like pretentious waffle about art, BALANCE, NOT SYMMETRY is the film for you, as we are treated to several tedious lectures about the mysterious power of art.

Of course, being the creative genius she is, Shirley is a student at the Glasgow School of Art. Except, several shots are of the University of Glasgow, which is separate to the GSA. At one point, it even seems like she’s a student at City of Glasgow College. To be fair to Adams, perhaps it was necessary to use shots of different institutions since the GSA’s centrepiece building sadly burned down. But this kind of inconsistency runs throughout BALANCE, NOT SYMMETRY. Apparently, for instance, you can travel to the Kelvingrove Museum via boat on a canal, despite the fact that the Kelvingrove isn’t near any canals.

“Although their grief is relatable, the lives of these extremely privileged characters are probably foreign to most viewers.”

Kate Dickie excels in playing down-to-earth characters, so her talents are wasted on the role of Mary Walker, Shirley’s middle-class mother. She lives in a perfectly decorated white mansion with an ornate garden out back, somewhere in rural Scotland. Although their grief is relatable, the lives of these extremely privileged characters are probably foreign to most viewers. As if to hammer home the point, we even see Shirley munching away on avocado.

Selfish and vain, Shirley would be the most annoying character in the film, were it not for her flatmate Hannah (Bria Vinaite). We’re invited to care about a subplot involving Hannah and her girlfriend Stacey (Lily Newmark), and although lesbian representation on the big screen is welcome, it bears no relevance to the rest of the film. Similarly, the romance between Shirley and Rory (Scott Miller) is just chucked in there, with little meaningful development (it’s all going great, then Rory can’t get it up, so it’s over).

BALANCE, NOT SYMMETRY posits that grief can be overcome through art. This may well be true, but it’s simplistic to suggest that it is the only means of overcoming trauma. Some people simply aren’t creative in that way; that doesn’t mean they’re doomed to never come to terms with their feelings.

As for the film’s plot arc, the message seems to be that, if you’re lucky enough to be from a privileged background and are innately talented, you’ll succeed in life, even if you’re completely self-obsessed and unpleasant. Otherwise, tough luck. By the end of BALANCE, NOT SYMMETRY, I kind of hated millennials, and I’m one myself.

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