Sex. Skateboarding. School. Security. Self. All these are staples of a wild, prosperous, and worrisome adolescence in Netflix’s latest teen-drama Slam. Without overplaying the melodrama or bogging itself down in the overdone coming-of-age story, Slam, Italian director Andrea Molaioli’s rendition of Nick Hornby’s 2007 novel, is refreshing and memorable. And, as Netflix continues to expand its own endeavors in film and television, future directors on the live-streaming service—and its competitors—may look to Slam as how to get the genre just right.
Slam follows 17-year-old Sam (Ludovico Tersigni) as he goes through his increasingly stressful life with his single mother, Antonella (Jasmine Trinca). After meeting Alice (Barbara Ramella) at one of his mother’s social gatherings, they become mutually infatuated. Soon their relationship blossoms organically into a passionate romance. But the paradise is soon lost as history repeats itself in tragic ways. Alice becomes pregnant, paralleling Sam’s own birth to teen parents. With this wrench thrown into his life already full of indecision, the young father-to-be must look to mentors inside and outside his life to combat a problem from which he cannot skate away.
Structurally, the film captures the levels of indecision and uncertainty contained in the adolescent years. Throughout the film, Sam has dreamy forays into hypothetical futures. He sees himself separate from Alice. He sees glimpses of a busy, sad existence as he divides time between his studies and child. Sam becomes confused and afraid by these potential realities, but they, along with advice from family and friends, help him push through the tough times. Sam is determined to not be as absent as his own father and strives for the kind of security and success his hero, Tony Hawk, had at his age.
In many cases, the ideas he has about what the future will hold are not inaccurate, but also not quite what he had in mind. In this way, the story of the film mimics the mental games we go through when wondering what the future has in store for us.
It is in this pensiveness that Slam succeeds. In all aspects of the film, life is presented like the sport of skateboarding: a refinable entity. In many ways, given enough hard work and practice, everything may just fall into place. Even when hardships and roadblocks present themselves, like bailing on a trick, it is not so much a death blow as a temporary inconvenience to endure.
The acting in the film solidifies these notions in a grounded reality. The film actively characterizes modern thoughts on serious issues like teen pregnancy tenderly and with care. Despite its drastic, life-altering effects, optimism and hope predominate the thoughts of the young lovers—and the horrified parents. Tersigni and Ramella often wore dreaded, hopeless looks on their face during terse conversations with parents, but diffused them as they embraced, looked at each other, and spoke of a better tomorrow.
Trinca gives the strongest and most impactful performance as Antonella. Her character is often the most compelling as she is forced to painfully watch her son make the same mistakes she did. In a roundabout fashion, however, this leads to a retroactive acceptance, not only of her son’s faults, but of her own youthful shortcomings. These more liberal attitudes may be chalked up to the European setting, but the mannerisms and tone adopted by all parties involved seem to suggest a shift away from fatalistic attitudes, airing instead on hope.
Where many other films would take the subject matter and go straight for the jugular of woeful, self-descriptive, teen horror story, Slam’s measured approach paints a nicer, more realistic picture of familial safeguards and individuals strong in the face of adversity.
Slam is a modern teen drama that does not center on unrealistic hopes for better tomorrows. It knows full well that there are consequences to actions and missteps. But in the place of a message of damnation, the film gives us one of courage. The metaphor of skating is used well, as it demands that we keep on rolling. Though we might not know what the future has in store for us, we can be certain that we will miss a lot more if we never pick ourselves up again and hop back on.
Featured Image By Netflix