I AM RUTH, created by BAFTA-winning filmmaker Dominic Savage, is a feature-length continuation of his female-led “I AM” anthology series. But this isn’t your typical TV film, especially when you have the magnificent Kate Winslet at its helm. Winslet stars with her real-life daughter Mia Threapleton in this mother-daughter drama that explores the horrors facing teenagers in today’s society and the difficult tightrope parents navigate in trying to give their kids privacy while also getting a window into their lives. Winslet and Threapleton are absolute powerhouses in the film, giving two of the best and most gut-wrenching performances I have seen on-screen this year.
The story centers around Ruth (Winslet), a single mother that works full time, and her teenage daughter, Freya (Threapleton). When Freya starts becoming withdrawn at home and having problems at school, Ruth begins to realize her daughter is struggling and not sharing those issues with anyone around her. Ruth’s only outlet is her son (played by Winslet’s real-life son, Joe Anders) who attends school out of town and can only be a voice of reassurance. As Freya’s disposition continues to decline, Ruth begins to suspect that Freya’s obsession with her phone and social media may be the cause of distress. But how can she delicately broach the topic with her daughter without being perceived as overbearing or invading Freya’s privacy?
I AM RUTH shockingly did not have written dialogue for the actors to memorize and go off of; it was entirely improvised from scene to scene, which makes the film and performances even more extraordinary. Each scene is meticulously paced, with a slow build-up of tension that really bonds you to the characters. I love how we are introduced to Ruth in a spin class, gossiping with her friends about the hot spin instructor, and by the end of the film we are left with a totally different Ruth; one that has gone through emotional trauma she never saw coming. The scenes are so realistic I didn’t even feel I was watching a film; I was a fly on the wall glimpsing at real life conversations between a mother and daughter, seeing the love that they share for each other and the friction that is so prominent in relationships at this stage of life.
Both Winslet and Threapleton have to run the gamut of emotions at this amplified time of crisis, and I found myself constantly switching between who I identified with in a given scene. At one point I could see things from Freya’s perspective, and from the next Ruth’s. This push and pull is a difficult one to pull off and can be completely attributed to both women’s phenomenal performances.
Mia Threapleton may be Winslet’s daughter, but she is a revelation and force to be reckoned with on her own and is going to be making major waves in Hollywood in the years to come. She clearly got this role on her own merit because her performance is instinctive, fearless, and nothing short of extraordinary. We know Winslet is one of the best actors of all time, so the fact Mia was able to go toe-to-toe with her AND through improvised dialogue… she is one to watch.
I AM RUTH may not be an easy watch, but it is an important reflection on the delicate relationship between parent and child, particularly during the teenage years… which has been even more amplified by social media and the negative self-esteem caused by it. It may be difficult and uncomfortable, but films like I AM RUTH can be the perfect conversation starters between parents and children about self-worth and the dangers of comparing yourself to others on social media.
I AM RUTH premieres in the UK on 8 December at 9 PM on Channel 4
My Review: A