Poor Casting And A Baffling Plot Ruins Young Ones' Dystopian Story.
Director: Jake Paltrow.
Writer: Jake Paltrow.
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Shannon, Elle Fanning.
Playing At: Texas Theatre.
There are plenty of extraordinarily difficult things one can do in this life.
Managing to sit, patiently, through the dreadful Young Ones — should you choose to see it — is one such thing, and I wouldn't recommend even bothering. As a film, Young Ones is unendurable, uninspiring and infuriating. It's also, misleading and humdrum.
And I'm just getting warmed up.
Thing is, it didn't have to be this way. From the jump, it looked like things were going to turn out much differently for Young Ones. The film actually starts off fairly strong as a fight to get the element of life we currently take most for granted — water. We, the audience, live in a time when people dump buckets of water on their heads to dodge paying money to charity and share it on Facebook for a laugh, but in Young Ones's setting, people will murder a motherfucker just for a glass. That's because Young Ones is set in an ugly and bleak future where all plant life is dead, water is scarce and, when the camera pans, all we see is miles and miles of vast, lifeless land and rock.
Aside from this promising plot premise, it was the fact that the Young Ones features the incomparable Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) that initially fooled us on the prospects of this film. Shannon is an actor who could stare at a wall for 90 minutes and mesmerize theaters. Yes, he's that good.
Well, most of the time.
Here, Shannon is mostly wasted as Ernest Holm, a recovering alcoholic who's doing all he can to protect his son and daughter in a future where every man is for himself. It's Social Darwinism, and it's back with a vengeance: The last man standing will be the most courageous hero or a maybe just a wily and vicious villain. Ernest's got brains enough, but Tensions rise when he wins a robot camel that transports buckets of water long distances. Turns out, Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult) really wants that bot too, albeit for selfish, perhaps sinister reasons. And when Ernest won't let him borrow or rent out, Flem starts to give him hell, even going so far as to date Ernest's sweet, innocent daughter, Mary (Elle Fanning).
On paper, this all sounds pretty juicy — a set-up for ripe for some good-old fashioned fights, no doubt. Only, nevermind: About 20 minutes in (spoiler alert), Shannon exits the film, the story takes a nasty nosedive and the whole thing turns into a struggle to keep anyone's attention.
It's an extreme, unexplained shift. Worse, it's a confusing one that shifts around and essentially just does whatever the hell it pleases. The plot changes considerably. I'm not even sure that first-time feature-director Jake Paltrow (Gwyneth's little brother) understood where he was going with this thing, either.
Is Flem a bad guy? Seems like he's supposed to be. But he sure is awfully polite, too. Even at his most menacing — if you want to call it that — he just genuinely comes off as a nice guy.
Perhaps it's because he's without Shannon around to keep things on the straight-and-narrow, that Hoult (X-Men: Days of Future Past) wanders here. Kodi Smit-McPhee, who's supposed to play opposite Hoult as some sort of leader in this kind of Dystopian future, certainly doesn't provide him much of a foil. Smith-McPhee's laughably unconvincing in this role — the's guy's maybe 100 pounds soaking wet and the kind of guy that small children might gang up on if they were looking for a little extra lunch money.
But such is Young Ones's plight, I suppose. What could have been a really exceptional movie on the great fight for water and a horrifying portrait on lives lived in isolation just kind of limps along to its finish with all the conviction of a dismissive shrug.
If there's any lesson to be gleaned from Young Ones it's this: Some fights aren't worth the trouble.
And given how horribly this one falls off the cliff? It's a fight that's not even worth considering, let alone starting.