Thoroughbreds is a female friendship movie with balls. This is not the Disneyfied version of teenage girls coming of age together. If it were that, Thoroughbreds would probably not be a movie for Sundance and other festivals anyway.
Amanda (Olivia Cooke) goes to Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy)’s house for tutoring. Both are social outcasts of a sort. Amanda has antisocial tendencies (but a killer deadpan) and Lily is wealthy and secluded. Both have central secrets that are revealed in the film, but they complement each other and push one another to better themselves.
Both of these girls are so endearing. Amanda is a provocateur. Lily is repressed and suppressed so wants to come out of her shell. Lily is inquisitive to Amanda’s exploits. They also test limits with a local drug dealer, Tim (Anton Yelchin), as young people do when they’re starting to realize the limits their parents set were more for the adults’ convenience than the kids’ benefit.
Their dialogue is like Aaron Sorkin banter in rhythm, except spoken by characters who are unsure of themselves. They’re posers, as opposed to Sorkin’s confident intellectuals. Well, Amanda is confident but more street smart than intellectual. They plot some dark revenge on Lily’s stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks) that takes the generation gap to another level.
Writer/director Cory Finley crafts a surreal environment against which his memorable characters can interact. Amanda explores Lily’s house with fleeting glimpses of help picking up after her. The awkwardness of their physical demeanors is palpable. Widescreen closeups are off center, and intercut with the characters close together rather on opposite ends.
Most notably, the sound design creates an audioscape that’s jarring but effective in shifting your perspective along with the twists in the character and story. Stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks)’s ergometer has a thumping rhythm that interrupts the girls. Music can be abrasive and sound effects punctuate the tone.
Thoroughbreds is an impressive debut for Finley and next level good for Taylor-Joy and Cooke. I’m glad Focus Features picked it up out of Sundance so it can play on even bigger stages.