Stella Does Tricks

Melancholy and surprisingly unpredictable, this resolutely unsentimental film was inspired by an English documentary series about homeless teenagers. Glasgow-raised Stella (Kelly Macdonald) is a London streetwalker beholden to the manipulative Mr. Peters (James Bolam), who uses her desperate need for a father figure to keep her in his stable of schoolgirl...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Melancholy and surprisingly unpredictable, this resolutely unsentimental film was inspired by an English documentary series about homeless teenagers. Glasgow-raised Stella (Kelly Macdonald) is a London streetwalker beholden to the manipulative Mr. Peters

(James Bolam), who uses her desperate need for a father figure to keep her in his stable of schoolgirl tootsies. Haunted by memories of her abusive father (Ewan Stewart) and the embittered aunt (Joyce Henderson) who belittled her as a child, Stella nevertheless holds onto her belief that someday

she'll make a different life for herself. After Belle (Emma Faulkner), another of Mr. Peters's girls, is brutalized by a gang of thugs, Stella makes her break, moving in with sweet-natured junkie Eddie (Hans Matheson) and getting a job at a flower shop. But she's not done with the past, and the

past is most certainly not done with her. Collaborators Coky Giedroyc (making her feature directing debut) and Scottish novelist-turned-screenwriter screenwriter A.L. Kennedy evoke a gritty yet hypnotic atmosphere in which Stella's dreams and fantasies are woven seamlessly into her nightmarish

life. Characters who might, in other hands, be one-dimensional caricatures are here given a complexity that makes them hard to shake off, and the low-key performances feel troublingly authentic. The film ultimately rests on Macdonald's shoulders, and she brings the troubled, pragmatic, impulsive

Stella to utterly convincing life. While it would be satisfying to see Stella achieve some cathartic closure, the film ends on a perfectly pitched note of irresolution that makes her struggles seem all the more poignant.

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