It’s rare, but when a film feels like its story is for you specifically in mind, it becomes an indescribable euphoria. With its indie soundtrack and a charming coming-of-age tale about a socially awkward teen finding solace through music, Bonus Track feels like plucked from a checklist of my tastes. A shame then, that it failed to deliver on an emotionally engaging film separate to its pitch perfect comedy.
Unfortunately, whilst it achieved a baseline of my expectations, its execution became too disregarding for the authentic experiences of being homosexual during the mid-noughties and the societal implications in a place of education in the wake of the abolishment of Article 28. Plus with production design irregularities and dialogue choices that date the film as contemporary, rather than something nearly twenty years ago, its hard to praise the film for doing the bare minimum.
Bonus Track was screened as part of the official selection to the BFI London Film Festival 2023..
Directed by Julia Jackman as her feature film debut and with a story in part by Josh O’Connor (The Crown), Bonus Track returns audiences to 2006 with a sarcastic and modern reflexivity. Its narrative builds its foundations on questionable logic, where journalists hound newly transferred student Max Marvin (Samuel Small) at school for being the child of divorcing music stars. Befriending the socially isolated, electro-music-fascinated George Bobbins (Joe Anders), who happens to be failing every class, the relationship teeters beyond friendship into something more.
Journalistic mishandlings aside, the coming-of-age film about an artistically talented boy named George, who fails his way through education with a turbulent parent-child relationship and a reliance on nostalgic music, only to meet his muse is regrettably the beat-for-beat plot of Sundance’s ‘The Art of Getting By‘ rather than Bonus Track.
What this translates to, then, is Bonus Track becomes an amalgamation of the coming-of-age genre, evidenced by the double dates sequence where George’s costume feels better accustomed to either ‘Sing Street‘ or ‘Sex Education‘ rather than having any singular identity in its characters or story.
Even the title, Bonus Track, refers to the added-on epilogue for the mixtape made for Max in the final act, where each intertitle chapter heading names a song picked for him on the cassette. Bonus Track acknowledges the art of borrowing, attempting, and failing to add a sidebar as contextualisation to make it original.
Giving Bonus Track some credit, for the most part, its production design mostly nails the aesthetic of being a student in the early to mid-2000s. CRT TV sets, a PlayStation, lava lamps, and cassettes litter George’s room as though plucked from an Argos catalogue that Christmas. Equally, its comedy is spot on, oozing in awkwardness and cringe moments where school was one forever period of wishing the ground would swallow you whole.
However, like everything in Bonus Track, it comes with a pitfall, such as the inclusion of the iconic IKEA shark Blåhaj plush, first put into manufacturing in the 2010s, making it noticeably out of place. Even the dialogue colloquialisms are sometimes jarringly contemporary for a time-period piece, even if relatively recently.
More so, the actors feel too old for the roles of pubescent 16-year-olds they’re meant to be portraying. Samuel Small dons train track braces despite having constant stubble, and the supporting actors look as though the teachers are in disguise, that no caking of bronzer and foundation can cover up. In fairness, Small’s chemistry with Anders is the weight of the film, and even despite the eye-rolling frustrations, the pair add warmth and excitement to the story.
Perhaps Bonus Track may have found life if released during a product of its times. Alongside the coming-of-age British films of the times like ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging‘ or ‘Fish Tank‘, it may have been a film I turned to through my formative years. Still, now, with better portrayals of queer relationships and ones that understand how it fits within its wider sphere of culture, like ‘Blue Jean‘, there is little that Bonus Track offers that I couldn’t get elsewhere.
Bonus Track is screening as part of the programme for the BFI London Film Festival and then will be available exclusively on Sky Cinema.
Did you like this review?
Would you like to read more reviews, news, and opinion features sent straight to your inbox? Then, consider subscribing to our weekly newsletter.