Nothing portrays ‘roast’ better than Ed Lilly’s directorial debut, Vs. A feature that could give the TV show ‘The Comedy Central Roast’ a run for its money. The Screen Star of Tomorrow 2017 has given a voice to the underprivileged British youth who may well feel abandoned by our money and fame orientated society. Keeping the subject real, forcing the issue with empathy and slick precision makes for a compelling watch.
Connor Swindells, giving a knock-out performance, plays Adam, full of rage and resentment at having been in foster care since the age of 5. He has been moved from one family to another for most of his life until he finally lands back in a damp and murky Southend after being placed with his last foster home before coming-of-age. While mooching around the seaside town, on the hunt for a blunt (aka marijuana) he has a chance meeting with the arcade cashier Makayla (Fola Evans-Akingbola). Dashing his rather bullish advances with a number of cutting insults of her own only makes Adam keener as he latches on to her to make his only friend in the town.
As Adam finds out, Makayla is also the organiser of the local Battle Rap scene, a scene in which each of its contestants are verbally demolished by their opponents with lyrical sharpness and a razor cutting tongue. Verbal beatings are the order of the day with the physical left at the door as the small community of youths are really just one big ‘happy’ family once the battle has come to an end.
Adam, who rebrands himself as Adversary, quickly shows his flair for the game with his swift thinking, nippy-witted take-downs. Soon ruffling the feathers of the reigning champion, Slaughter (grime artist Shotty Horroh), not just through his lyrical stylings but also bonding with his baby mother.
Lilly’s story isn’t all just venomous put-downs and male bravado; there is a deeper layer which explores Adam’s abandonment issues. His mental and emotional struggles with the mother (Emily Taafe) who put him into care all those years ago finally come to its boiling point after he spots her working in the local hairdressers. Adam may find it easy to confront his opponents in the Battle Arena, but the long-awaited confrontation with his mother, who has had her own issues, doesn’t come so easily and that rage blinds his own understanding.
Much like Eminem’s 8 Mile, Battle Rap with a social ‘wokeness’ levitates Ed Lilly’s directorial debut, it’s a harsh reminder of poverty Britain and the struggles of the working class youth who have been bandied around the foster care system and seen as a lost cause. As Swindell’s Adam conveys, despite the adversity, given a platform to shine and a few stumbling blocks to overcome there is hope in perseverance. Lilly has been extremely respectful with the subject culminating in an exceptionally delicate and nuanced drama delivered with fierce lyrical force.
Vs. Hits UK cinemas October 19