Director: Eion Macken
Screenplay: Eion Macken (based on the novel by Rob Doyle)
Starring: Dean-Charles Chapman, Finn Cole, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo
BBFC Certification: 15
Every generation from the 1950s onwards, it seems, has received its own movie that charts the trials and tribulations of growing up. From more serious movies such as Rebel Without a Cause or The Outsiders to the ones that frame the teenage experience through a comedic prism that mainly consists of falling in love, alcohol, sex, and parties (take your pick from Dazed and Confused, Superbad, or the majority of John Hughes’ 80s output) cinema has taken a particularly keen interest in exploring the difficulties of becoming an adult.
In this sense, Here Are the Young Men is no different. Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Rob Doyle, the new film from Eoin Macken follows a group of three teenage friends through their first summer after finishing school. Despite being set in 2003, this isn’t the kind of teen film that wears a time period on its sleeve through easily identifiable cultural references such as music or fashion. Indeed, the time period feels mostly irrelevant; this is a story concerned with the deeper issues of young people feeling disillusioned and disenfranchised, adrift in a society that doesn’t seem to care. In that sense, the film is just as relevant today as to its Dublin setting of almost twenty years ago.
The plot of Here Are the Young Men is relatively simply. Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman), Kearney (Finn Cole) and Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) drift around Dublin, indulging in petty vandalism, drugs and clubbing. When they bear witness to a sudden, tragic accident, each deals with the trauma in their own way, which in turn leads to conflict and tragedy in their own lives.
I haven’t read Doyle’s novel, but from what I can gather online, Macken (who wrote the screenplay as well as directing) takes a small incident from the book and gives it a far bigger focus in his film, using it to not only explore the issues of teenage disillusionment but to delve deep into the toxic elements of masculinity and male friendships (Fans of the book might have to proceed with caution here; Macken almost casts aside Rez and instead chooses the relationship between Matthew and Kearney to be the dark heart of his narrative).
There is no doubt that Macken gives it his all in telling this tale. Under his direction, Here Are the Young Men is a slick and visually inventive production, where whole bags of tricks are thrown at the screen that at times recalls the hyper-reality of The Doors/Natural Born Killers era Oliver Stone. For a tale that finds itself grounded in some strikingly dark and gritty moments, you might wonder if this aesthetic is suited to the material, yet Macken skilfully manages to paint his film with creative flourishes that enrich and rarely hinder (apart from a climactic moment towards the end, where everything becomes so wildly over the top that you feel Zack Snyder has stepped in briefly behind the camera).
Macken also deploys great skill in getting stunning performances out of his cast. Chapman and Cole give furious, rage-fuelled turns that are tempered by yet another effortlessly brilliant performance by Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Matthew’s girlfriend. For all the stylistic bombast that shimmers around them, each performance feels grounded and real, charting a whole gamut of emotions from ecstasy to despair that frequently feels electrifying.
At this point, it might feel like Macken has scored a slam dunk with Here Are the Young Men, but unfortunately the film stumbles and falls more often than it takes flight. Chief among the culprits are the film’s frequent lapses into surreal sequences that parody an American talk show. Meant, I presume, as a critique of how masculinity is represented in the media (and the toxicity that can result), these sequences feel heavy-handed and dated, even for the time period the film is set in. Macken isn’t content to let his main story reveal his themes to the audience; at these moments, he seems quite keen to shove them down their throats as well. Combined with a constant insistence on playing out characters memories and imaginations on TV screens, Here Are the Young Men never finds a successful balance between the dark reality of its story and its more indulgent flights of surreal fantasy.
The key relationship in the film, between Matthew and Kearney, struggles to hit home as well. For all of Finn Cole’s significant abilities as an actor, he never manages to provide Kearney with a sense of true menace or terror (a Begbie he most certainly is not) making his character come across more annoying than fearfully antagonistic. He also feels underwritten. Provided with a stereotypical backstory, Kearney functions in the film more as a plot device than as a fully rounded character, which might be fine if he were part of a larger ensemble, but not when he is one half of the film’s key male relationship. This only serves to undermine the story once the film reaches its conclusion.
And it’s a conclusion you have seen many times before. For all its stylistic flourishes and great performances, Here Are the Young Men ends up feeling like a regurgitation of familiar themes. While it is refreshing for a film focusing on the teenage experience to delve into topics that feel strikingly relevant, the film finds nothing new to say. Macken has done a sterling job in ensuring that Here Are the Young Men remains a consistently watchable and enjoyable experience; it’s just a shame that it ends up feeling hollow when you feel he was aiming for something more profound.
Signature Entertainment presents Here are the Young Men on UK Digital Platforms on the 30th April and on DVD on the 10th May