Smile More: Short Film Review. By Afonso Kol Almeida.
How do we broach the complicated issue of race and bullying at school? Integrate UK has tried to answer this question with the release of the short film ‘Smile More’. The film follows a young black boy, Noah, a boxing enthusiast who is relentlessly bullied by his classmates due to his race. Noah then must navigate the options presented to him. Deal with it through official channels, or take matters into his own hands.
The film offers a hyper stylised portrait of the reality many minorities face at school. From insulting chants to subtler digs, the filmmakers are able to effectively place the viewer in the mindset of someone who is constantly struggling with this persecution. The scene is set from the beginning when young Noah has his boxing practice interrupted by a group of bullies that throw milk at him. Following this incident, he finds the word “MONKEY” etched onto his locker in the changing room. At first Noah seeks the advice of his boxing coach, who encourages him to simply let it go and focus on himself. Not feeling vindicated, Noah attempts to report the incident to his school officials. Here he is met with a barrage of solutions that don’t address his problems. The advice ranges from him trying to find ways of coming across less aggressive, to simply “smile more”. The conflict crescendos until Noah decides to face up against one of his main aggressors and use his boxing skills to get even.
‘Smile more’ achieves a lot in its 9 minute runtime. It creates a good effective sandbox by using the confides of school life to present us with this problem we can’t escape from. Even those who have been fortunate enough not to have experienced any sort of discrimination, will feel the unsettling familiarity of having a crisis happening during their school days as an inescapable problem. The choice to give the bullied character the tools to deal with his conflict through violence was also very interesting. Historically, films that portray bullying will have a character suffer abuse due to his or her weak stature in relation to the pack. By making Noah a boxer, that assumption is removed. We are no longer dealing with the question of does he or does he not have the strength to face his abusers, but rather should he? ‘Smile More’ offers us an interesting moral conundrum here. Through the removal of the question of strength, the one we are dealing with is the one of how should we address this type of adversity. Noah finds no catharsis or resolution in employing his prowess over his bullies. He comes to understand that negative retribution will never offer him peace of mind, and the only approach one can take is to focus on themselves and working on what is within their grasp.
The scene in the school office is one of particular note. And as it should be, the film is named after it. In a project that portrays the overt and aggressive ways in which children can experience discrimination, the infuriating way in which the school officials deal with our protagonist’s struggle is one of the more mature and well achieved moments in this film.
There are a couple of minor details in the film that were perhaps a misfire. The use of narration is not very effective for one. The young actor portraying Noah offers a mature and poised performance, which is offset but his narrating. The film could have been exactly the same without a single second of narration and would have been more effective for it. Additionally the sound mixing does come off as a bit distracting at times. It seems to have been included in an effort to propel the momentum of the film and signal the rising tension within Noah, but similar to the narration, it distracts rather than adding to the film
Ultimately, ‘Smile More’ does exactly what it set out to achieve. It offers a grounded if stylized look at discrimination, managing to leave behind enough hard hitting scenes for the audience to go away reflecting on what was presented.
Watch below, directed by Paul Holbrook.
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