With the premiere of Jellyfish, director James Gardner has announced his arrival on the scene as a feature film director. Gardner does so by delivering a film with a breakthrough performance from British actress Liv Hill.
Life has been thrust onto Sarah Taylor (Liv Hill) during the middle of her teenage years. While many high school students would rather be living a life free of responsibility, Sarah has become a second mom to her younger twin siblings, Marcus (Henry Lile) and Lucy (Jemima Newman). This is because their mother, Karen (Sinéad Matthews), isn’t responsible enough to take care of the family due to her bipolar disorder. With no dad in the picture, it’s up to Sarah to do it all herself.
Sarah deals with bullying from other students in her drama class. It reaches the point where drama teacher Mr. Hale (Cyril Nri) has to intervene with the young student. Hale asks that Sarah take all of her anger and turn to stand-up comedy as an outlet. The drama instructor gives her a list of stand-up comedians to study that includes Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Chris Rock, Frankie Boyle, and Katherine Ryan.
As Sarah begins to study these comedians–mainly Boyle–and take in their performances, she neglects the work aspect of her life. Working in an arcade isn’t enough to bring in the money so Sarah turns to soliciting. This is where the film treads into Me, Too territory with the way some of men abuse their power, including arcade boss Vince ( in the film. Sarah uses her experiences–her truth, if you will–as the basis for her routine. She didn’t have the best upbringing in Margate.
It’s a solid first feature for the British director and it surely won’t be the last. With the breakout performance that Gardner got out of Hill, it would be great to see the two of them work on another project together. Gardner and Simon Lord have written a script where the lead character is so vulnerable but isn’t afraid of being silent.
Hill, acting in her first feature, delivers a stand-out performance that blows audiences away. Remember Liv Hill’s name because she is sure to be going places. I can’t say enough good things about the performance. She’s an actress who never performed stand-up comedy which adds so much more to what she brings in her delivery. There’s a lot of raw talent that comes through in the performance. Hill may be an actress but with the right material, she could make it as a comedian, too. There’s a lot of joy in watching Sarah’s comedy performance even if there’s some hurt behind it.
Led by a standout performance from Liv Hill, Jellyfish adds itself to the Me, too canon by addressing the conversation through a comedic outlet.
DIRECTOR: James Gardner
SCREENWRITERS: James Gardner & Simon Lord
CAST: Liv Hill, Sinéad Matthews, Cyril Nri, Angus Barnett
An official selection of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Jellyfish premiered in the Viewpoints program.