Bonus Track Review: LFF 2023

bonus track

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Teens make music and memories in coming-of-age romcom Bonus Track

A queer romantic coming of age comedy with a killer nostalgic soundtrack? What’s not to like! Bonus Track is the debut feature from BFI New Talent award winning director Julia Jackman. It’s based on a story written by The Crown actor Josh O’Connor and features original music from Years and Years’ Olly Alexander.

16-year-old George (Joe Anders) is the school outcast. With failing grades in all his classes and a complete lack of social capital he appears lost as graduation approaches. The only thing George is certain of is his love of music and his desire to be a star. It seems an unlikely dream when even his music teacher isn’t interested in his tracks, but his mum assures him that all he needs is talent and the right ‘’connections.’’

When Max (Samuel Small) the son of two famous rockstars transfers into his school, it looks like George may have found the connection he was looking for. Unlike everyone else Max isn’t dismissive of George’s music, and George is able to enlist him in his efforts to create the perfect song for the end of year talent show and finally convince his classmates he’s someone worth listening to. Along the way the two boys grow closer than they could have planned for.

Joe Anders and Samuel Small star in Bonus Track
Joe Anders and Samuel Small star in Bonus Track

It’s strange, I wasn’t expecting to see two films during this festival packed with early 2000s Brit classics, but here we are (the other was Saltburn, also set in 2006.) Bonus Track is split into chapters or ‘tracks,’ each segment titled after a well-fitting song including hits by Franz Ferdinand, The Streets and overlooked but not forgotten Jamelia banger ‘Superstar.’ Seeing as I was also 16 in 2006 when this film is set, it was a wonderful throw back to hear all these songs on the big screen after so long.

Lead actors Anders and Small were hired off the back of an open casting call and both make their film debuts here forming a delightful partnership. Their chemistry is immediate, George’s awkward missteps playing very cutely opposite Max’s too cool for school persona. George’s parents Julia, a freewheeling artist played by Fantastic Beasts’ Alison Sudol, and tight-laced Jeffrey – Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Davenport – are also a classic odd couple. They have many of the best one liners of the film, their constant bickering and differing approaches to raising George a source for both comedy and conflict.

The only real villains of the piece are the press and paparazzi, who are constantly hounding Max due to his famous parents and at times risk driving a wedge between the two boys. But Jackman keeps it light and frothy, with even teen angst being kept to the minimum in the name of creating a silly, sweet piece of romantic escapism.

Bonus Track feels like an authentic time capsule of early 2000s British school culture, just one where the characters endings are perhaps a bit kinder than many of my peers would have found in a similar situation. And seeing a kinder word feels like no bad thing. Evoking the vibes of John Carney’s Sing Street (a personal favourite) Heartstopper and Sex Education, it’s a fluffy little musical love story that is certain to put a smile on your face.

Bonus Track is screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival and will be released on Sky Cinema later this year

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