Two teens with different genetic conditions are forced to form a friendship.
Ella Greenwood’s film – which she wrote, produced and directed when she was only 18 – is a sharp reminder that it’s easy to retain lingering prejudices about mental illness even when we think we’ve cast them aside.
Greenwood plays Lola, a teenager with depression. Her mum Susan (Sarah Eastwood) clumsily arranges for her to spend some time during the school holidays with Zack (Sani Thabo), who she hasn’t seen in years.
He has a life-limiting genetic condition, but while they’ve been thrown together by meddling mothers they soon find that they enjoy each other’s company.
Zack is cheery and, it seems, at peace with his own situation. But he too isn’t immune from long-held ideas about mental illness. With his opportunities and dreams curtailed, her can’t understand why Lola doesn’t snatch at anything that comes her way, or indeed why she isn’t happy.
It’s a realisation – that he doesn’t understand her – that leaves her devastated, though she also doesn’t seem to realise why his own illness might make him think the way he does.
This may be a deeply personal subject for Greenwood, but her experience as an actor also shows – she’s terrific as Lola, particularly in scenes with her mum. Those invisible barriers that exist between her and the well-meaning Susan are well-drawn; the typical teenage feelings of not being understood, exacerbated by her depression and her mum’s reaction to it.
The production design – Zack’s house looks artificial with its cascade of pink and red but it also deliberately reflects his cheery, “no surrender” approach to life – means the artificiality short films can be prone to (having to convey a huge amount in only a few minutes) can be styled into the production.
The two of them sit in two enormous armchairs next to each other, swamped by the soft furnishings. You can imagine them, if their situations were different, decades hence: two pensioners finishing each other’s sentences while cackling and arguing over board games.
Colour is well used. Lola’s bedroom is also pink, as she cocoons herself in her duvet, pillows and cushions. Their kitchen is functional until life improves and flowers appear.
This isn’t a love story – not that kind of love story anyway – but they have a connection beyond their illnesses that’s strengthened by their shared experiences.
At times the acting is a little declamatory, but overall this is a very professional short film that understands the limits of the format and how it can work with Greenwood’s subject (there’s little back story, which also means we don’t have much to work with to justify our assumptions).
With Faulty Roots Greenwood offers a piercing insight into what it’s like for teenagers with depression, and marks herself out as an engaging, thoughtful and decisive young filmmaker to watch.
Watch the Faulty Roots trailer: