Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks
Director: Cory Finley
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Childhood friends Lily and Amanda reconnect in suburban Connecticut after years of growing apart. Lily has turned into a polished, upper-class teenager, with a fancy boarding school on her transcript and a coveted internship on her resume; Amanda has developed a sharp wit and her own particular attitude, but all in the process of becoming a social outcast. Though they initially seem completely at odds, the pair bond over Lily’s contempt for her oppressive stepfather, Mark, and as their friendship grows, they begin to bring out one another’s most destructive tendencies. Their ambitions lead them to hire a local hustler, Tim, and take matters into their own hands to set their lives straight.
A film like Thoroughbreds which deals intimately with the emotional levels of adolescence needs to make us feel something about the characters involved. Thoroughbreds makes an art form out of making us feel, but maybe not the way you think it will make you feel. I ended absolutely hating Lily (Taylor-Joy) and thought she was one of the most despicable characters I have seen in recent memory. The best part is, I think I was supposed to feel this way about her. While the story was on the weaker side, the character development and comedic moments make Thoroughbreds a unique addition to dark comedies and young adult films alike.
The film revolves around Lily and her friend Amanda (Cooke) who are on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Lily is incredibly emotional and Amanda on the other hand has no emotions and goes through life imitating the way people show theirs. Lily deals with the typical issues that a teenager from a wealthy New England family has while Amanda has to deal with the social consequences of her emotionless actions. The two bond over their differences and find a common bond over the way Lily’s stepdad (Sparks) treats her. As the story develops, we begin to realize the decision-making processes of each of these girls and logic each of them uses to get what they want. At the beginning, I did not like Amanda due to some of the choices she made in the past, but as the film progressed I began to really sympathize with her. She makes calculated and analytical decisions which some people may find repulsive, but she does it from the perspective of what she thinks is best. Although she says that she feels nothing, I started to believe that she genuinely cares about her relationship with Lily as well as the horse she owned. Lily however, fills me with so much rage with each passing moment. Every time I thought there was a redeeming quality about her, she does something that undermines it. I understand that her step-dad is a terrible person, but that in no way justifies her actions towards him. He even brings up the point that she only looks at things from her own perspective, and he is absolutely right. She only looks at how situations impact her life and does not care about the consequences that impact others. After all this though, I think I was supposed to feel this way about these two characters. While the story is a little flimsy, Taylor-Joy and Cooke are riveting in their roles and convey the point they tried to make. Looking at the film from a broader perspective, the film also provides a commentary on privilege and how it impacts life choices. Since Lily comes from wealth, she is able to make decisions that teenagers in less fortunate situations can make. In her interactions with Tim (Yelchin), she constantly demeans him and undermines his life due to his criminal past and his general slacker attitude. Looking at how Amanda comes from a middle-class family, she has fewer options when she makes a mistake, which is much more reflective of reality for many of the viewers. This level of privilege is even shown during the scene with the giant chess game in Lily’s backyard. Amanda only moves two types of pieces in this scene, knights and pawns. While the knights might seem obvious due to their horse-like appearance, they also represent that Amanda’s emotions or lack thereof move uniquely to the rest of the pieces. The pawn represents the way Lily treats people. She uses them as objects that can be easily disposed of like a pawn and shows how deep her sociopathy goes. Subtle scenes like this are just the tipping point of a movie full of range and dysfunction.
Overall, while Thoroughbreds can be over-the-top at times, it does a fantastic job of showing us how these characters act in their lives and why they make certain decisions. Even the supporting characters add value in their limited screen time. Yelchin gives us a strong final performance as that one guy we all know who is way too old to be hanging out with high school kids and contributes as an outside perspective of the two lead characters. Add this to some smooth tracking shots around the house and we get a movie that is as technically appealing as it is acted. While it has its flaws, Thoroughbreds definitely leaves its mark as a unique contribution to a genre full of copycats.
Overall Score: 7.5/10