Creative people are necessarily sensitive to the world around them, equally likely to be overcome by waves of self-doubt and inspiration. Films are unique in their ability to convey a truth viscerally, personal experiences are made thrillingly real, wholeheartedly inhabited until they feel close. Having a well of movies designed to uplift you and engage your creative senses is a useful tool. This sub-genre teeters on the edge of the comfort film category, serrated by its willingness to challenge the viewer.
Most of these films centre an artist trying to make it, but all of these films are the result of an artist trying to make it. As with all artistic pursuits, it is crazy when a film is made. It is a miracle when a film is good.
1) Little Women (2019)
By the time Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is knelt on the floor writing the story of her and her sisters, her status as a writer has been tested and tried. Her arc feels emotionally prescient - many creatives know that the process of self-identifying is a turbulent journey with very few discernible landmarks. Jo spends her teenage years scribbling down plays, writing stories by candlelight, she strides into adulthood determined to sell her writing. She is a writer, isn’t she? Can she be a writer if she refuses to write? At what point does artistic compromise slip into self-sabotage? Buried within the film are hard won answers, musings on the exchange between sacrifice and artistry. Every artist could stand to bear witness to this brazenly moving account of what art costs. In the end, Jo is a writer not because she practices the act of writing but because she has something to say.
2) The Souvenir: Part II (2021)
In The Souvenir, Julie’s student film is treated almost like a side joke, dissolving in the face of Anthony’s corrosive addiction. What was a generic-sounding film about the Northern working-class, by the sequel, morphs into a deeply personal recounting of Anthony’s death and her esoteric memory of their relationship. We watch her peel back the layers of her life, coding each turn in a cinematic language, and by the final moments a party in her house is revealed to be a carefully designed soundstage, completed by the “Cut!” which rings out. Joanna Hogg’s pseudo-memoir creatively embodies the demands of dedicating your life to something. Through Julie’s story we come to understand what it means to love your craft and whether it is possible to be loved by it in return.
3) Brown Sugar (2002)
Unique in this list for being a comedy rather than a coming-of-age drama, Brown Sugar charts the relationship between Sidney and Dre, long time best friends who fall in love. “When did you fall in love with hip-hop?” serves as the refrain which binds them together and remains a stabilising truth. Rick Famuyiwa wields the romantic comedy carefully; their love for one another is synonymous with their passion for hip-hop, their careers move in tandem with their love story. Every person in the music industry could stand to learn from the inspiration which drives the two protagonists. As is often the way for romcoms, behind the veneer of entertainment lies a profound message about trusting the people you love with your creative ambitions and leaning into the impulses which first inspired you.