Richard, 15 Years Old
Writer-director Joe Stephenson, in his first feature film, follows a 15-year-old boy named Richard (Scott Chambers) who suffers from learning difficulties and lives a troubled life with his beloved but erratic and abusive older brother “Polly” (Morgan Watkins) in a seedy and rundown old caravan on someone else’s countryside property. With his brother too busy either working or drinking to really spend much quality time with him, Richard creates his own little world including talking to his chicken, Fiona, his only friend.
One day, Richard meets Annabel (Yasmin Paige), the seventeen-year-old daughter of the family that is threatening to evict Richard and his brother from their land. As the friendship between Richard and Annabel grows, his family bonds become stretched to breaking point as dark secrets and devastating future possibilities are revealed. Richard’s learning disabilities are unspecified but he is a teen with a sunny outlook, who lives his lonely existence in the countryside under the domineering eye and frequently violent hand Polly. Richard’s isolation and desire to be loved are emphasized from the outset by his desperate attempts to win his sibling’s affection with breakfast and his one-sided conversations with his chicken best pal, Fiona.
Annabell’s friendship starts to offer some hope for Richard. Stephenson uses his camera well to emphasize Polly’s dominance by frequently letting his features fill the frame. When “Chicken” starts to build up emotionally, Chambers keeps it small making Richard believable and sympathetic. Annabell has just enough edge to keep the dynamic between her and Richard believable. Richard’s character offers a continual ray of hope and by the time confrontation builds to climax we care what happens not only to Richard but to Polly as well.
“Chicken” is a gentle yet powerful film and the sensitive handling of its characters means their stories and individual plights – whether it’s Richard feeding his beloved chicken or Polly trying desperately to find work – never feel rushed or glossed over. This is a film that feels real and hits home with emotion.
Scott Chambers plays the troubled but utterly loveable Richard with a sensitive naiveté and quiet pathos. It’s a pleasure to be in his company and heart breaking whenever he is mistreated or the complex world around him gets too much for him to bear. Paige is wonderful as Annabel; she exudes charm and likeability as well as an emotional complexity that comes into play once she becomes irresistibly invested in Richard’s life. Morgan Watkins is a rising star who brings a believability and an empathy to a potential very unlikeable character.
This is a small film that packs a big emotional punch. It is deceptive in its initial simplicity and is full of relatable humanistic and emotive details.