They say high school is some of the best years of your life filled with a litany of excitement and joy. Most of the time, that idea instantly fizzles out after your freshman year when you realize that the High School Musical experience is merely just a fantasy. It’s a classic case of cognitive dissonance that you eventually become accustomed to. Nevertheless, it doesn’t deter from the fact that high school is an overwhelming show of chaos. This is something our 3 main protagonists are disillusioned with in Here Are The Young Men, a tale of rebellious teenagers who spend their freedom from school under the flashing lights of parties and drugs. Conversely, a tragic accident catalyzes their lives in different ways and they must learn how to cope with it.
This film is adapted from the novel of the same name written by Rob Doyle. Having not read the book I cannot speak on behalf of how different or accurate it is to the film. In spite of this, it has always been a challenge to adapt the contents of the novel into a screenplay, especially one where the films’ runtime is just a little over an hour and a half. On paper, it already seemed skeptical, but at the same time you saw cast names like Anya Taylor-Joy, Dean-Charles Chapman, Finn Cole and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo who are all young rising stars—some more than others—so perhaps it could be promising.
Unfortunately, the film does not offer anything new to the table in terms of the coming-of-age teenage adolescent storyline. Although the film does explore several themes regarding toxic masculinity, relationships, and self-identity, it often feels like it’s juggling too much without spending time with them. I don’t have a problem when many different ideas are being tackled, but director and writer Eoin Macken bites off more than he can chew here. Rather than sitting with these characters, we are thrusted into an unbuckled rollercoaster ride with several loops and sharp turns.
Eoin Macken’s direction is definitely ambitious and stylish but is often too jarring and clunky for its own good. It’s clear that he wanted to encapsulate his vision on the screen with fantastical elements and moments of surrealism. Many of those scenes are used to highlight a character’s internal psyche or evoke a psychedelic atmosphere similar to replicate that drug-induced aesthetic. Occasionally, it can be interesting to watch. Cole plays the radical Kearney who goes on a power trip driven by not just the tragic event, but also by his trip to America. Macken does try to say something about one’s obsession with the idea of living in America, but just before he gets to one idea, it would pivot to something else. He never really dives deep into Kearney’s character and ultimately makes him feel hollow. The same could be said for Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), who does not get enough screen time to showcase more of his character.
The condensed runtime of the film does make it seem decently paced, which is because it feels hyper-stylized and overstuffed with machismo energy. It is most definitely over the top in some places with cliches, which is disappointing especially since it started out with a lot of promise in the beginning. The performances are solid throughout, and Anya Taylor-Joy’s role as Jen is the heart of the film that prevents us from disassociating from all the teenage melodrama. But even her character feels underutilized and left me wanting more. Chapman plays Matthew who is deemed as the more sensitive character who eventually notices Kearney’s transgressions. His dynamic between Cole is easily some of the best performances in the film as you can feel Matthew festering with rage and angst in the way that teenagers usually do.
Macken does show that he can achieve a specific style with the film, albeit seeming familiar. I just wished he would replace some of the cliches with more rumination on the trials of tribulations of growing up as a teenager. What’s more frustrating is that he does touch the surface on how certain events shaped the way they viewed themselves, but never goes the extra mile. As much as I enjoy my flicks about the disaffected youth and their spiral downfalls, this film does not do much to push the boundaries in terms of characterization and theme.
While it boasts spirit and style, Here Are The Young Men is not equal to the sum of its parts, offering a turgid script and brevity that cannot seem to give enough depth to story and character.
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