Three young Dubliners find their post-graduation confusion worsened by a nearby tragedy in Here Are the Young Men, an adaptation of Rob Doyle’s debut novel directed by model-turned-actor Eoin Macken. Benefitting from a relatively high-profile cast (especially Queen’s Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy, though she’s not the focus here), the picture has enough polish to draw a small audience. But once they’re watching, most viewers will be reminded of other, more ambitious accounts of youthful disillusionment and risk-taking, the best of which can make characters’ epiphanies seem like they haven’t already been had by generations of post-adolescents.
Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones) plays Matthew, who spends most of his time popping pills and downing pints with two slightly less well-adjusted mates: Joseph (Finn Cole, Animal Kingdom) is fixated on the notion that moving to America will make him the alpha male he wants to be; Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Sing Street, Vikings) appears to see drugs less as recreation than life plan.
Taylor-Joy’s Jen pops by on occasion, destined to soon become Matthew’s girlfriend. Though her first bit of dialogue hints at ambitions for the future, the character’s main reason to be here is to remind Matthew that his current floundering puts him at risk of losing his sensitive-guy appeal. (Said appeal is not much evident in Chapman’s performance, which paints the kid as self-involved and sullen.)
The boys are enjoying a period of “they can’t expel us now” vandalism when they witness a traffic accident that kills a young girl. All are shaken, but in different ways. Though Macken doesn’t make the scene arresting enough to build a whole film on, we’re meant to view all the bad choices to come as a failure to cope with trauma.
That death scene features one of several stylistic tricks Macken employs here, few of them paying off. What’s up with the handful of near-subliminal flashes of a smiley face with x-ed out eyes? Why do extras in a fantasy sequence occasionally flicker into video artifacts? Why have Taylor-Joy croon Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control,” only to drain the song of its ominous power?
More substantive inventions often just bring to mind other films’ smarter handling of the same material, like the brief satire of advertising that recalls Fight Club‘s anti-consumerism. And the most sustained device, a recurring fantasy in which Joseph participates in a talk show built upon masculine power fantasies, grows muddled late in the film, when the vision somehow leapfrogs into Matthew’s own inner world.
Those talk-show fantasies do a lot of heavy lifting on the cheap, telling us most of what we need to know about a trip the film doesn’t show: Joseph leaves his friends behind and embraces darkness in the Land of the Free. He returns from the States hoping to share his new pleasures (abusing the homeless, for one) with the reluctant Matthew; he only succeeds in making his buddy more confused and irritable.
Throw in a failed suicide, concerned elders and a couple of attempted rapes, and you have a troubled-teens drama that should be much more involving than it is. Macken’s pace is sluggish even at a brief 96 minutes, and with the occasional exception of Cole, there’s nothing charismatic in the cast’s take on self-destructiveness. Given the working-class setting, nobody’s expecting the extremes of Robert Downey, Jr. in Less Than Zero. But with a stronger script and direction, Young Men could have been a similar big-screen showcase for its TV-famous leads.
Production company: Hail Mary Pictures
Distributor: Well Go Entertainment
Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, Finn Cole, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Travis Fimmel, Conleth Hill
Director-screenwriter: Eoin Macken
Producers: Richard Bolger, Noah C. Haeussner
Director of photography: James Mather
Production designer: Michael Moynihan
Costume designer: Aisling Wallace Byrne
Music: Ryan Potesta
Editor: Colin Campbell
Casting: Daniel Hubbard