Boys Like You

Boys Like You (2024)

There is an initial ambiguity to the title of Paul Holbrook’s latest short, Boys Like You, which he has co-written with its star, Lindsay Bennett-Thompson. For that middle word, ‘like’, could be either verb or preposition. Certainly the local boys liked June (Bennett-Thompson) when she was younger, and now, though living with her loving husband Martin Taylor (Louis Emerick) and their two young children (Noah Lenge, Kyrah Lewis) far from her childhood home, she is distracted, isolated and quietly upset, drinking a glass of red wine alone on the bed with her back turned to all the happily chaotic domesticity behind her. June is haunted by something unresolved from her past, and as she closes her eyes, a distorted, aggressive male face fills the screen, like a traumatic imprint etched in her mind.

The next day, June is nervously sipping red wine in a pub otherwise populated exclusively by men, and sticking out, as young drug dealer Chris (Liam Collins) crudely observes, “like a shit in a fruit bowl”. June has been waiting for Chris – she even has photos of him, taken without his knowledge, on her phone – but he has no idea who she is. Certainly this cocky boy seems to like her, flirting with this “older bird” even if he is not sure whether she is an undercover cop, or “a posh bit of skirt῾ looking for “a bit of rough” or a potential customer in this ‘shithole’. 

June says that she too is “not sure” why she is there, and all this uncertainty infects the viewer as well, unsure whether our heroine is out to take revenge, or just to close a chapter, or even to open a new one. The elision of a full story (beyond hints and intimations), and the contrasting attitudes that June directs towards Chris – now meek fear, now intimate tenderness – make her intentions very hard to read, so that her every word resonates with import. Clearly conflicted and undecided, June certainly has a message to deliver to this aggressive stranger, but she is hesitant as to how much she wants, or is willing, to say to his face, given how much that visage, and the swaggering hostility behind it, obviously frightens her.

Boys Like You

Although Chris insists on lording it over what he regards as his turf, June in fact grew up in this area herself, when, as she tells him, she knew lots of “boys like you”. With the word ‘like’ in the title now reconfigured as a marker of resemblance, Chris will go to the pub’s bathroom and catch a glimpse of his own distorted likeness in the cracked mirror, seeing a monstrous version of himself, not unlike that face that June had remembered in horror earlier at home with her husband and children. “There is a world outside this estate, you know,” she tells Chris. “Nah, not for people like me,” he replies, again evoking the film’s title. Yet June has managed to get out, to build a new life for herself surrounded by family and love, with just the merest trace of her history clinging to her consciousness. Although June feels at times as alienated and isolated as Chris, cinematographer James Oldham shoots the scenes of her at home with warm colours that contrast with the harsher shadows of Chris’ environment. 

Reminiscent in different ways of Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies (1996) and Nathaniel Martello-White’s The Strays (2023), this story of class fixity and mobility, of imprisonment and escape, of legacies inherited and abandoned, is played out for the most part in a social realist register – but wait till the bitter end, and you will be treated to an arresting final image of incendiary irrationality, capturing the way that Chris is forever trapped by the sins of the previous generation. For the tougher that this boy in a man’s body acts, the more he burns his bridges on a better life that might have been.

strap: In Paul Holbrook’s short film, a married mother secretly visits an estate to confront a young man and unresolved past trauma

© Anton Bitel

Boys Like You