Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Violence and Language
Directed by: Jake Paltrow
Written by: Jake Paltrow
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning, Michael Shannon, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alex McGregor & Aimee Mullins
YOUNG ONES is yet another film that I was interested in possibly catching at this year’s past Sundance film, but I never got to it for one reason or another. It’s a good thing too, because much like LIFE AFTER BETH and THE SIGNAL, I possibly might have hated this film even more had seen it in a festival environment (full of long lines and expensive tickets). YOUNG ONES is a low-budget science-fiction tale mixed with a classic Western style. While there’s definitely a lot of ambition in this project, it ultimately crashes and burns due to poor writing and bad directing.
In an apocalyptic future ravaged by severe drought and violence, Ernest is a farmer trying to make ends meet in taking care of his two children (Jerome and Mary). Conflicts with nearby folks have intensified after the water near their land runs dry. Ernest finds himself at odds with his daughter’s punk boyfriend/young neighbor Flem Lever. As circumstances look more dire, Ernest, Jerome and Flem are forced to make decisions that no one should ever have to make (let alone someone in their teens).
The best thing I can say about YOUNG ONES is that it’s remarkably well shot. The cinematography spanning across patches of desert looks beautiful. This futuristic world (brought to life by clever minimalist sets) is also somewhat clever in many respects. There are good ideas on display, but they’re executed with mediocrity that one can’t help but wonder how solid this film would be if a young Ridley Scott or James Cameron were tackling the material. A thread-bare screenplay puts a damper on the whole affair from the opening, but it’s the overconfidence from second-time filmmaker Jake Paltrow that really makes everything close to unbearable. There’s a sense of pretentiousness and a “Look what I can do!” mentality through the movie. Scenes go on for far longer than they need to, especially a confrontation in the final 20 minutes. These cumulate in making YOUNG ONES into a tedious poorly made bore rather than a mature sci-fi flick worth anybody’s time.
Not that the shoddily constructed characters allow for much in the way of performances, but the robotic donkey-like machine actually emits more emotion than any of the human performances on display. The acting varies to different degrees of bad. Michael Shannon is phoning it in as a weary, tired father (who’s also a recovering alcoholic to throw another cliché on top of it). He’s the best actor here, but he’s not given anything to do with his throwaway role. Nicholas Hoult is over-the-top with an obnoxious attempt at a bad Southern accent that comes and goes (depending on what scene you’re in). Kodi Smit-McPhee (who was stellar in THE ROAD) lacks a single discernible emotion as Jerome. Meanwhile, Elle Fanning is just plain annoying as the love-stricken teenage daughter who hates her family. A good screenplay might have expanded on her and made the viewer sympathize with where she’s coming from, but instead she’s pretty much regulated to being the bitchy sister (who can be argued as a catalyst for most of the bad things happening in the story).
YOUNG ONES sounded very intriguing on paper. However, the result is a massive disappointment that possibly might have been an excellent film in the hands of a better director and screenwriter. The characters are bland, some of the overly dramatic scenes are unintentionally funny, and the desperate sense of trying to make this film feel like a classic kind of movie comes off as more pretentious than earnest. It’s clear that director/writer Jake Paltrow’s reach exceeded his grasp by a few miles. The cinematography is impressive, but that only counts for so much when everything else ranges from mediocre to terrible. The biggest problem is that a lot of the story feels underdeveloped and lazy, as if throwing big concepts at the viewer will make up for the lack of a compelling plot. YOUNG ONES is one to avoid at all costs.