Richard Karlsen is an average teenager, but on his final summer before University he makes an unforgivable mistake which sends his plans awry. In a genre typified by its small scale and personal storyline, coming-of-age tale What Richard Did lacks any surprises but makes up for an absence of originality in its authenticity and truthfulness.
Reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, What Richard Did revels in its verisimilitude and immaturity of the actors. Director Lenny Abrahamson encourages an impressive air of believability from all his young performers, in particular Jack Reynor in his debut lead role as titular Richard. Reynor’s performance really hit home for me, Richard has a lot on his mind and the pressing weight on his shoulders is evident in every frame. The supporting cast is equally impressive, in particular Richard’s younger, magic-obsessed friend Jake played by Patrick Gibson. A character that could have easily been irritating and arrogant, boasting about hanging-out with the older kids, Gibson brings an appreciative level of humility to the character and certainly a performer to look for in the future.
The cinematography adds to the fidelity. The camera is unobtrusive and captures beautiful images of the Irish countryside on a tight budget. Employing a handheld camera throughout emphasising a sense of voyeurism into real lives.
What Richard Did marks the first feature screenplay by Malcolm Campbell, who’s previous credits include episodes of The Bill and Shameless. Campbell demonstrates much talent for dialogue, the jokes rarely feel scripted and the situations for the most part relatable. Unfortunately What Richard Did stumbles in the second half. Or perhaps the lack of stumbling may be the issue, as Richard’s irreversible error fails to shake up the narrative in a satisfying manner. Richard transforms from a precocious rugby star struggling to live up to his potential, to a precocious star struggling to live up to his potential with a major dilemma adding to his woes.
Your enjoyment of What Richard Did will likely depend on your own experiences. Richard is purposefully contemplative character and the screenplay urges you to reflect on your own past as well as on your future potential. It’s a film about the fragility of life and those brief decisions that can bring it all crumbling down.
Despite a lack of development, I found What Richard Did surprisingly enjoyable, most in part to its authenticity in its dialogue and characters. It provides much to consider about responsibility, culpability and the fragility of existence. Fans of indie, coming-of-age dramas will know what to expect but I fear a lack of thrills and a definitive ending may general viewers unsatisfied.