J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Young Ones: It Makes You Miss Rik Mayall Even More

For centuries of human history, more battles have been fought over water than probably any other natural resource. Apparently, Gwyneth Paltrow’s brother only recently discovered the strategic value of water, but he is duly impressed. Unfortunately, viewers will find an entertainment drought in Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Ernest Holm was once a farmer, but his parched land is almost as arid as the characters he encounters. Following some sort of vaguely defined environmental disaster, Holm and his socially underdeveloped son Jerome eke out a modest living selling supplies to the knuckle-draggers working for the corrupt water works in the mountains. Flem Lever (a name everyone says with a straight face, to their estimable credit) covets Holm’s trading business and his eternally distant daughter, Mary. Despite Holm’s rugged manliness, the pretty boy Lever still manages to kill him in the desert, framing his new pack mule android for the murder most foul.

Of course, it takes Jerome quite a while to suspect Lever, because intuition hardly runs in the family. Ironically, Lever is much better suited to reversing the family’s fortunes, given his devious nature and ruthless follow-through. Nevertheless, little Jerome will get himself some payback when the time is right.

Ernest Holm is the sort of role Michael Shannon was born to play, but sadly that is the only bit of casting that makes sense in Young Ones. A slow burning brooder like Shannon should be counterbalanced with someone who can project and maybe even chew a bit of scenery. Instead, for Holm’s sort of grown children, Paltrow calls on Kodi Smit-McPhee and Elle Fanning, two of the mousiest screen thesps you will ever come across. Watching them shuffle around the farm makes the films of Bela Tarr look like madcap romps.

Without question, Young Ones’ MVP is cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, who also lensed Perfect Sense, an infinitely superior apocalyptic allegory. He gives the parched vistas the proper John Ford treatment, but unfortunately he does not have much else to shoot in terms of narrative or characters. Unremittingly dull, yet also pretentious, Young Ones is a would-be futuristic western genre-bender that completely melts down. Not recommended for anyone, it opens today (10/17) in New York at the Village East.

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