As you are growing up and experiencing your own adolescence, I think it’s natural to gravitate towards films that detail some of the growing pains and events that feel familiar to you at the time. Though my life was rarely as dramatic as the screen narratives, movies like The Basketball Diaries, Thirteen, Kids and even Christiane F. were important to me in my teen years, but something I am finding as I make my way into my thirties is that unless the movie is a shining example of its genre, I don’t really have the same level of interest in the over the top lives of young people anymore! Would Here Are The Young Men be good enough to pass my personal test?
Ultimately, the answer is no, not really. Here Are The Young Men tells the story of Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman), Kearney (Finn Cole) and Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), three young men in Ireland who spend the summer after their school graduation falling deeper and deeper into a spiral of drug abuse and mental health anguish. Whilst there are a handful of things to like about Here Are The Young Men, as a whole it very much feels like a story in which every single dramatic coming of age trope has been thrown at the wall with the hope that just some of them stick. Some do stick here, but not enough to make the film anything more than just ‘okay’.
From suicide to toxic masculinity to rape culture and beyond, a lot of heavy stuff is touched upon in the short running time, and though the film attempts to lighten some of that shade with a number of interesting, surreal techniques in a sort of Trainspotting kind of way, it doesn’t prevent the overall vibe of the picture from being detrimentally joyless. The audience watches these young men bounce from one bad decision to another, and for the most part, it doesn’t necessarily feel like much growth or development is taking place between episodes.
Visually and audibly, the film feels very much like a quintessential coming of age drama, which does provide a sense of tradition within the genre. House parties filled with strobing lights and rabid teens, montages set to a very cool, very curated soundtrack featuring Primal Scream, Joy Division, The Chemical Brothers etc. It’s a setting that feels recognisable, and it gives the audience a sense of familiarity that helps with engagement in the narrative. Even if you can’t relate to the excessive details of the drama unfolding, you can at least. relate to the wider culture at play.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that perhaps Here Are The Young Men just doesn’t speak to me as much as it might have if I were still sixteen years old. It’s a ppofecieitnyl made film that boasts some very stylish moments, but the enhanced joylessness of the entire affair makes it quite a trying watch, and even more trying when you don’t feel connected to the narrative in the first place.
Quite bafflingly, for a film set in Ireland focused in the lives of young Irish people, there is only one actual Irish performer among the main cast. British actors Dean-Charles Chapman and Finn Cole more or less take centre stage as Matthew and Kearney, playing out a toxic friendship that walk the fine line between love and hate with a dash of fatal codependence thrown into the mix. Both actors are perfectly fine in their roles, with Finn Cole having the benefit of being able to play fully unhinged at times as Kearney’s dangerous tendencies come to the surface. Chapman is very much the audience surrogate as Matthew, the character in the group who could aspire to more but feels trapped by his circumstances.
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is as suicidal Rez is the sole authentic Irishman in the gang, and frustratingly his character might be the most interesting yet is given the least amount of screen time. Anya Taylor-Joy plays a prominent part as Jen, Matthew’s summertime love interest, and after loving her in Emma I have to say that she’s criminally underused here. Jen is unfortunately the kind of character who is really only there to advance the plot for her male co-stars, and at the expense of some quote harrowing rape culture content nonetheless. No bad performances are given here, but equally, no career bests either.
Overall, Here Are The Young Men is a perfectly fine gritty coming of age drama that isn’t afraid to experiment with some surreal techniques here and there, but ultimately isn’t anything more than just ‘fine’. Maybe it will speak to some young people in the same way that those films I mentioned at the start spoke to me, but when as a viewer you are closer to the age of some parents than to the protagonists themselves, things just don’t tend to hit quite as hard anymore!