Being a teenager is terrifying enough – finding your place among peers, preparing for college, or being part of a sports team – without the explosion of hormones. For some their developing sexual identity is straightforward, but for others it is a confusing mess that serves only to destroy what little confidence they’ve scrapped together. One-Up, a female led film by up-and-coming writer Julia Thompson and director Eimi Imanishi, captures a harder, grittier side of the inner workings of female friendships and same-sex interest not often seen in coming-of-age films. The film follows Hadley, a member of the girl’s ice hockey team, as she is thrust into an uncomfortable sexual encounter after being brutally rejected by her teammate crush. One-Up not only challenges concepts of femininity, but illustrates both the intentional and accidental pain that young women often inflict on one another in their camaraderie.
I thought it would be cool to make a film about girls doing something really, “un-lady like,” and being brutal – Julia Thompson
Ice hockey is an aggressive, often violent sport that Thompson knew all too well from her boarding school days. While the film is not autobiographical, her experience gave the film the edginess and metaphorical outlet needed for its sexually struggling teenage protagonist. The film’s director, Imanishi, complements the writing perfectly, adding a sometimes jarringly unsteady frame, as each painful moment unfolds. As a result, the entire production feels present in a way that many films shy away from. As Hadley engages with her teammates and is confronted with the reality that not only does she like girls, but they may not like her back, her inner judgement and turmoil is palpable. As Hadley gets humiliated unintentionally by her teammates, it’s clear that growing up and taking risks is also synonymous with emotional casualties.
One-Up is not only commendable for turning gender stereotypes on its head, but for it’s lack of clarity by the film’s end – sometimes life can be gray. Thompson reveals that growing up, she read a lot of LGBTQ coming-of-age stories because they were comforting to her as a closeted queer. Yet, she felt their endings left her wanting because the protagonist always seemed to figure things out in the end. As a teenager who felt anything but coherence, Thompson strove to make what she calls the “anti-coming out story” – a coming-of-age story that creates the opposite feeling of figuring it out and reflects the anticlimactic nature of real life. In truth, this couldn’t sum up the film more. So while you watch Hadley interact with her sometimes warm, often cold teammate crush, Christine, you’ll realize that unrequited love is universal and that women can be as aggressive or protective as their male counterparts.
A pair of female filmmakers to be excited about, Thompson and Imanishi are currently working on their first feature film together. Thompson is a Creative Producing fellow at the Sundance Institute with Eimi’s project, DOHA-the Rising Sun, a story about a young woman who is deported from Spain and forced to return home to Western Sahara where she joins her brother’s hash business. Needless to say, keep an eye out for these two ladies in cinema!