Burnt Toast and Cigarettes

By Paul Stainthorpe | Drama
A troubled teen tries to get her life in order -- but problems show up.

Abi is a teenager who has just been expelled from her school because of her fighting and bullying another student. Her father tries to understand her, but she pushes him away, and her mother has passed away, leaving her adrift. She loves her boyfriend, but constantly fears he will abandon her, either by breaking up or cheating on her.

Abi's only place of refuge is her dance studio, which brings out the best in her character. But when the other student from her former school shows up, Abi loses the only safe space she has in life, bringing out her worst and barreling towards a collision with her issues.

Directed and co-written by Paul Stainthorpe, this short teen drama is an emotionally immersive portrait of a troubled young woman bottling up her feelings, creating a psychological powder keg that comes out in aggression, anger and abrasive behavior. Rendered in a gritty but warm visual naturalism, the narrative is excellent at exploring the ripple effects of Abi's unacknowledged emotions, showing both how she pushes potentially sympathetic allies away and how her lashing out at targets creates additional layers of shame and self-hatred.

The writing has an ear for the way that teenagers are both full of strong emotion and sensation but can't quite articulate their emotional landscapes with self-awareness, and then act out in volatile actions and decisions. Abi is confrontational, and she causes many painful, emotionally violent conflicts around her that create tumult in both her life and the storytelling. Though she's a maelstrom of reactivity, she's also given moments alone, where what she's done hits her and fills her with shame and confusion.

Actor Becky Lindsay is excellent, able to find the vulnerability, terror and loneliness underneath the bluster and aggression. She's very much a young woman in pain, pushing people away when they get close and yet terrified if they go too far away. We also see her potential in the dance studio, where she's helpful, engaged and positive. But when her only haven of comfort is intruded upon by Chloe, the girl she bullied -- which ultimately got Abi expelled -- Abi goes out of control, and may lose everything she has.

Compelling and unafraid of emotion, "Burnt Toast and Cigarettes" is a companion short to Stainthorpe's "Floppy Toast With Drippy Butter," which showed Abi from another angle, as a menacing bully persecuting Chloe. The former deftly showed the devastating impact of persecution; this film focuses on what drives the aggressor in the first place, sharing its sister film's measured, empathetic perspective, willingness to dig deep into character and compassion for what it finds there. Ultimately, it has a humane faith that people can grow and change, with support, self-awareness and understanding. The resilience of the human spirit, capacity for growth and worthiness of forgiveness are available to anyone willing to be accountable and honest and take steps to make amends.

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