Emily is an eleven-year-old girl trying to navigate a social dilemma. She’s caught between two friends: there’s her friend Brooke, with her giggling group of cool girls. And then there is her friend Rebecca, whose status with the “in crowd” is tenuous and provisional at best — or nonexistent at worst.
Director Abigail Greenwood and writer/producer Kate Prior’s honest, emotionally engrossing drama looks at the social politics that rise up among young adolescents, just at the stage in life where children begin to individuate and form identities of their own.
Part of this psychological work is defining one’s self socially, but when the politics of being a “cool kid” begin to bubble up, it often reveals aspects of a burgeoning self that may surprise and even disappoint ourselves. We may give lip service to the idea of “being yourself,” but in the face of powerful peer pressure, authenticity is much harder to practice.
Greenwood’s film captures this tension beautifully, rendering the story with wonderfully adroit performances, especially between the two leads, Sasha Dingle-Bell and Astrid Lewis. One character can navigate with the in-crowd, but the other doesn’t, and while their connection is genuine, it suffers as a result of the social terrain the girls exist within.
Their story is captured in beautifully subtle camerawork, which carefully charts the unspoken struggles and fissures that begin to pull at the girls’ friendship. The film floats along the girls’ lives and often feels like a documentary. Combined with the tense but understated score, the film has the feel of wistful, melancholy memory, without being too nostalgic or heavy.
Bullying is a hot topic, but the short offers a well-crafted, beautifully observed take on the issue. With its careful build-up and intelligent writing, the story feels gentle at first, but the climax has the force of devastation. The final looks of betrayal may be rendered in silence, but their pain speaks louder than words.
By taking us into the emotional lives of young girls with respect, care and sensitivity, “Eleven” shows viewers how seemingly “innocent” practical jokes from one perspective can destroy the emergence sense of another’s self and strength at such a perilous age. “Eleven” shows how this is both understandable and even “logical” when it comes to the social politics of this age — as well as the terrible costs it enacts on both sides of the line.