Films about youth tend to be soaked in nostalgia, perhaps shot in soft focus about those halcyon days long past when money was of little importance, and the grandest ambitions were limited to finding elaborate ways to break things and get away with it. These memories are easy to come by since adults old enough to craft films have long forgotten how painful it could be to be young and alone, or powerless and with such limited options. Adolescents tend to look forward to a hopeful future where imperial dreams could be realized, or at least a time where one has enough of an income to be left alone. Adults on the other hand look back with fondness to a time when income and options were limited but responsibilities were few in a carefree pastiche of naďve aimlessness. Interesting then, how the two young boys in Somers Town remind the viewer how even as a kid one is looking both forward and back just as adults do, and for the same reasons. Our rather poor grasp of memory tends to view adolescence and adulthood as being separated by an arbitrary high wall that was scaled by graduation from college, the acquisition of a job that paid well enough to allow one to leave home, or the terror of realizing that you have knocked up that girl you barely tolerate (or got knocked up by that guy who can barely tolerate you). In truth, there is no wall, and likely little difference between youth and older age. We still carry those same habits and skewed vision of what is to come, and what brought us here.
Tomo is an outgoing prole from the midlands of England who flees his house filled with layabouts (so he says, anyway) for the greener side of the fence in London. Marek is a Polish immigrant who was brought by his father to a cramped apartment in a decaying area. He is left with little to do as he sees his father once daily between when he arrives from work and before he leaves to get drunk with friends. Tomo is sidelined after some kids nick his gear, and he hides in Marek’s apartment until something better comes along. Life does indeed occur while they make other plans, and they form a friendship of sorts without really thinking too much about the future. Figuring out toilet usage without the breadwinner finding out about the new tenant is complicated enough, let alone how they learn to deal with infatuation and loss. They hang out, steal stuff, do odd jobs for a cockney entrepreneur, and fall for the same French girl at a local bakery. There is no real plot or direction to speak of, and really there should not be in a coming of age story. There are the hard objects to bounce off, the sharp edges to recover from, and the stupid shit one does without careful thought that becomes the most rosy of memories.
The film itself is feather-light, and would sail away with the slightest breeze, unless you see yourself in the characters. I saw a bit of Marek’s shy and withdrawn nature in myself, as well as Tomo’s ill-advised recklessness. And in the end I saw a bit of Marek’s father, working all day and drinking all night, in a slightly more responsible version of the two kids. Beyond holding down a steady job, there is no difference between the adult and the child in Somers Town, and in a way that would seem to be the point. The kids earn just enough from thefting a bag of clothes to enjoy an afternoon in the park with wine and cheese, though this was initially meant for the French girl. Love is lost, and forgotten for youth. The father earns just enough to remain in borderline poverty, but at least the time is entertaining. He left behind his wife after their marriage falls apart. Love is lost, and is not likely to be regained for a grownup. This is no tragedy, just the way things go. Fortunately, none of these losses are given any more dramatic heft than they deserve in real life.
Considering the inconsequential events that consumed my young life, I found the film an amiable stroll down some semblance of memory lane. It is unlikely that much of the film will stay with me for any length of time, though I will probably think back to that kid having to wear a dress with a ‘French maid lingerie’ apron whilst polishing brass with amusement. Not that I have had to wear a dress (that you know of), but it is the weird shit that seemed so embarrassing at the time that stays with you years later.