Directed by Eion Macken
Ireland USA/ 2020/96 mins
Unable to separate itself from the distinctly obvious inspirations of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, Here Are The Young Men lowers the age of the principal cast and centres on three lads finishing school and emerging into the cruel and waiting world. The transgression of youth is a staple of cinematic journeys, evolving with culture and generations but sharing distinct similarities with tales of coming of age, romance and overcoming some form of trauma or adversity. Already experiencing life to the full, Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman), Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), and Kearney (Finn Cole) are no strangers to the temptations of drugs, alcohol and partying, and Eoin Macken’s screenplay of Rob Doyle’s novel depicts the impact a tragic and violent death has on the three young men.
Too soft-handed, Macken’s filmmaking attempts to spin both plates of realism and a surreal dream-state fail. Obsessive, narcissistic and relatively one-dimensional, Kearney’s experiences with a deceased mother and absent father result in a fixation with American late-night television and its exploitation of the vulnerable and marketable. This results in peculiar slips of reality as Kearney comes to grips with the traumatic events of witnessing a car accident, placing himself as the star and eventual host of said television show. Conceptually understandable, however, the distinctly surreal and over-played nature comes over as severely jarring against the remainder of the film.
Chapman, playing by-default lead Matthew, has a tighter focus throughout the film, a relationship with Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy) and in-depth evolution following the accident. A gradual slip, finding difficulties in focus and the futility of life, Chapman secures the struggles as a young adult in coming to terms with a world without safety nets. There’s a remarkably tangible connection with Taylor-Joy, one which feels at the heart of the film and may have served as a finer focal point than the vacuum of social dynamics.
The treatment of the two other boys is drenched in nihilism, to the detriment of the film. The extreme measures undertaken by Kearney and Rez seem excessive given how fleeting our history or understanding of their character and backgrounds are. Kearney’s derangement and Rez’s suicidal intentions come over as extremely shallow and underdeveloped. Kearney’s actions border on cartoonish in performance. It becomes grotesquely obscene without the basis for this transition. The drug abuse and minor hints towards past experiences serve as a water-thin foundation for the extreme responses from Cole.
Even Taylor-Joy, the blazing star she is, doesn’t come away unscathed from the embers of Macken’s direction. Even with the film’s most authentic sense of presence, capturing the distress with leaving school and determining a path, there’s also an unquestionable waste of talent. Despite silly errors such as an accent dip from time to time, there’s an attempt at maintaining character let down by Macken’s direction. But still, one particular change in character dynamics involving the attempted assault of Jen results in a raw performance from Taylor-Joy as she attacks the failings of men, calling out the actions of their peers.
In an attempt to deconstruct the difficulties in dealing with toxic friendships, Here Are The Young Men takes the topic of self-destruction a little too close to the heart. Unsure of whether to push for full throttle or instead opt for a realistic coming-of-age drama, Macken’s adaptation swithers and delays, wasting moments of atmospheric brilliance in lighting and framing with James Mather’s colour intense cinematography.
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Review published for The Wee Review