A haughty Ben indulges a nonsensical belief that his intellectually inferior friends are getting better grades on their schoolwork than him, compelling him to lose focus on school altogether. Soundtrack to Sixteen fleetingly chronicles both characters’ lives over the course of the school year, up until the final exams.
Written by Anna-Elizabeth and Hillary Shakespeare, Soundtrack to Sixteen is brimming with undiluted charm and warmth. Nowadays, coming-of-age films are trying to heighten the emotional stakes with tragedy and amplified conflict, but the Shakespeare sisters do no such thing. Soundtrack to Sixteen is a sedate and realistic portrayal of teenage angst, which only ever feels feigned when it tries to underscore humor and film references, such as Richard Curtis’ Love Actually.
As Maisy continually gives in to peer pressure and a vacuous friendship, the more she isolates herself. As Ben repeatedly complains about the inferiority of his peers, the more misguided he becomes, as a friend and a student. Maisy and Ben are their own worst enemies, steered by absurd misconceptions of what real relationships entail. On the surface, Maisy and Ben don’t seem like likable protagonists, seeing how Maisy abandons her friends, and Ben constantly arraigns his friends. But that’s where the Shakespeare sisters exploit richer storytelling, wherein they explore a teen’s social hardships and their expected naiveté.
“…a congenial coming-of-age tale that doesn’t hinge on nostalgia or magnified melodrama…”
Not only do friendships and romances come and go in school, but academic pressure can really take a toll, and that pressure is more intense for some than others. In this case, Ben is drowning in a sea of academic pressure, and Maisy is learning the truth that friendships cannot be forced. As the school year goes by, Maisy and Ben meet at a party they didn’t want to go to. But it isn’t until a late-night bus ride brings them together, and romantic sparks begin to fly somewhere between the uncomfortably endearing silence. Hillary Shakespeare exudes a naturalistic quality that harmonizes well with the delightful chemistry between Maisy and Ben, who are both infectiously inhibited and mentally tense.
While some lines of dialogue are stilted and some scenes are unformed, Soundtrack to Sixteen is a congenial coming-of-age tale that doesn’t hinge on nostalgia or magnified melodrama, though Patrick Savage and Holeg Spies’ soundtrack is a fitting nostalgic dose. The movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the characters, as much as they botch things up for themselves, they’re irresistibly quirky and inherently fascinating because, like teenagers, they lack sagacity and common sense.
Though apparent budgetary restrictions hinder the film’s aesthetic, Hillary Shakespeare still deploys a fairly talented supporting cast, a lived-in school setting, genuine messages about friendship, and two lead performers who sell a winning relationship. Scarlett Marshall and James Calloway’s grounded performances as the charmingly strained duo—Maisy and Ben—gives Soundtrack to Sixteen a digestible beat that doesn’t go unnoticed or unheard.
"…a fairly talented supporting cast, a lived-in school setting, genuine messages about friendship..."