Following the death of the father of 19-year-old Jack (Kacey Mottet Klein), his 17-year-old sister Lisa (Anamaria Vartolomei) and 10-year-old brother Mathis (Andrea Maggiulli), Jack finds himself becoming the guardian of Mathis, who is particularly finding it difficult to accept the loss of both parents. As the two brothers try to make their situation work, they face many ups and downs in both their relationships and individual lives.

Director Blanc, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay, uses the family’s unique situation to elicit compelling performances from his lead actors, with Klein and Maggiulli skilfully embodying their respective characters. Klein effectively conveys Jack’s difficulties in reconciling his freewheeling party lifestyle with acting as a father figure for Mathis, whilst Maggiulli captures Mathis’s impulsive and humorous nature as well as his emotional outbursts that show how the loss of his parents has affected him. However, whilst Blanc is on steady ground when portraying the more intimate aspects of the narrative (such as how the relationship between Jack and Mathis alternates between the two getting along like brothers and being at odds with one another), he falters in attempting to bite off more than he can chew.

For example, a subplot involving Jack trying to discover his father’s shady business dealings in Spain feels undercooked, with the anticlimactic revelation of the nature of the deal being somewhat undercut at the end of the film, where Jack is suddenly assaulted for reasons that are presumably connected with the deal, but receive little explanation or contextualising. This ad-hoc attitude towards plotting also results in a number of subplots, such as Mathis striking up a friendship with another bereaved classmate and the conflict between Jack and Lisa coming across as somewhat abbreviated, with limited development or resolution to flesh them out. This is a shame, as Blanc’s direction and the performances of the actors involved provide these scenes with a lot of potential – in particular Vartolomei and Angelina Woreth as Jack’s girlfriend Maureen impress with their respective portrayals of the heightened emotions that their characters express in their disputes with Jack.

Just Kids works best when it focuses on the human impact of parental loss on its main characters and their interactions with each other, but falters in its attempt to encompass too many narrative strands, possibly in a misguided attempt to make the overall story seem more detailed and engaging. Narrowing the focus to one or two plot threads would have resulted in a more coherent narrative and more fully-fleshed out character development. As it is, the final product only manages to fulfil half of its potential.

Screening as part of the French Film Festival UK 2020