The surprise success of After We Collided may herald a box office trend for YA romantic drama, but this debut feature is ill-suited to capitalise. Despite being another contemporary tale of lovelorn teenagers, Philophobia hails from a bygone era to which we must never return.
Joshua Glenister stars as Kai, an aspiring writer whose coming-of-age in the Cotswolds is very obviously based on the writer-director’s own. Kai wiles away his A-level revision time smoking spliffs on the library roof with his two mates, mooning over a girl and dreaming of escape from “this shithole”. There are other characters, too, but none of them have much in the way of hopes, dreams or interiority. They’re punchlines for the kind of classist sheep-shagging jokes that even The Inbetweeners would consider lame. Or, like the rolling fields and sun-dappled lake, they’re just another pretty part of the scenery.
In today’s supposedly woke world, it’s unusual to see a film exhibit attitudes to women that have hardly moved on since Bender sexually assaulted Claire under a desk in The Breakfast Club. At least in Porky’s, the male characters – motivated only by extreme horniness – were just as one-dimensional as the female ones. Philophobia is at pains to demonstrate what a sensitive soul Kai is, from that pretentious title to the dreary emo soundtrack. This only makes more stark the extent to which other characters are underwritten, particularly the perma-pouting projection of adolescent fantasy, Grace (Kim Spearman).
Successful teen drama requires either the authentic emotional immediacy of youth or the retrospective insights of maturity. Since Philophobia lacks both, its over-long sex scenes just seem prurient. Molly Ringwald’s post-#MeToo essay on John Hughes should be required reading for everyone involved.
• Philophobia is released in cinemas on 30 October.