Young Ones Movie Review - Pray For Rain, Pray For A Little Bit More
Directed by Jake Paltrow, Young Ones is a beautiful sci-fi western that features a stellar mix of established and up-and-coming talent in the form of Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Set in in the not-too-distant future in which water has become the most precious commodity on the planet, Paltrow's picture is broken into 3 chapters, each of which takes a different perspective on the tragic events that unfold around one family living in what has become a barren part of the world, stricken by drought.
Young Ones does so many things right, but it is essentially let down by a lack of ambition, a failure to take advantage of the opportunity to do something truly unique with a tried and tested western formula.
The first chapter, which features Michael Shannon's patriarch, Ernest Holm, is undoubtedly the most gripping. Shannon's portrayal of this tortured man is near-flawless and I found myself thinking if the entire movie had just been about Ernest...that would have been just fine with me. Ernest finds himself wrestling with the demons of his past as he attempts to raise two teenage children on a land that he is convinced will come good once the rains come. "Pray for rain" is the common phrase in these parts, but one gets the feeling that even if the rains do come, Ernest's issues won't truly disappear. His days are consumed with trying to provide a better life for his children, but when that priority slips, the vacuum is filled by the fact that his past actions led to his wife becoming paralyzed, and living out her days hooked up to a robotic exosuit in a specialist facility many miles away.
Many of Ernest's other issues stem from the star of Chapter 2, Nicholas Hoult's Flem Lever. Flem harks back to the bad boys of the 50s and 60s, riding a motorcycle and stealing the hearts of the local girls, namely Ernest's daughter, Mary, played by Elle Fanning. Mary's affections for Flem go beyond smitten and their relationship is a continuous bone of contention between her and Ernest. Despite the friction between Flem and Ernest, many of the young rebel's best moments occur during his interactions with Ernest's son Jerome. Played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jerome is the lead of the picture's third and climactic chapter. Smit-McPhee succeeds in his portrayal of the picture's sole coming-of-age tale, as Jerome goes from an awkward daddy's boy to a young man on the cusp of taking his destiny into his own hands.
It's during many of Jerome's scenes that another character brings itself to the forefront. The robotic mule serves as a constant reminder that this picture is living in the future, but it is when Jerome takes notice of it that the viewer discovers that it has a far more important role to play. Paltrow said that he wanted to explore the way in which humans look upon machines without considering whether or not they have a soul, and with the use of the Big Dog-inspired robotic mule he succeeds in this mission.
Paltrow's Young Ones has all the components one could want from a great movie: a fantastic cast putting in a series of brilliant performances, an interesting premise that allows for a riff on a classic movie formula, and beautiful cinematography that pays tribute to the Westerns that so clearly inspired the film. Unfortunately, all of this work is almost completely undermined by the fact the film spreads itself too thin. Each piece of the puzzle is so damned interesting, the film's 99-minute runtime could never have done them justice. This fact is exacerbated by the lack of screen time given to one of the most interesting characters in the movie. Where is the 4th chapter dedicated to the young daughter, Mary? Elle Fanning is clearly an incredible talent, and what she does with the limited remit she was given is excellent. But it is hard not to feel that the movie suffered for its lack of a female perspective. Paltrow stated that he wanted to stay close to the traditional formula of western movies, and in those movies, the female stars were almost always rooted in the home and limited to either being love interests or early examples of the women in refrigerators phenomenon. But what if Paltrow had opted to explore things from Mary's perspective? He had already succeeded in riffing on the western movie with robot cattle auctions and water replacing the old commodities of oil and railroads, so why stop there? If Paltrow had truly wanted to make this a thought-provoking variation on westerns, he could have completed the job by allowing the extremely talented Elle Fanning the opportunity to portray a well-realized and tragic character.
Young Ones is a thoroughly entertaining slow-burner that provides some truly memorable performances from the likes of Michael Shannon and Nicholas Hoult. If you're a fan of westerns or science fiction, Young Ones will have a lot to offer. It also offers the chance to see Nicholas Hoult sink his teeth into a role of significant substance, in a performance that confirms him as one of the superstars of the future.
Young Ones is in theaters on a limited release on October 17th.