"Pray for rain.”
Gwyneth Paltrow’s younger brother, Jake, introduces us to a dystopian future where water is scarce in Young Ones, his sophomore feature film. The film has style and it is also gorgeous to look at the empty vast dry land (filmed in South Africa, but taking place in an undisclosed American town), but unfortunately the characters did lack some development. This could well be classified as a sci-fi western centering on a family that is struggling to survive under the harsh dry conditions. The always fascinating Michael Shannon plays Ernest Holm, the father of two adolescents who has decided to stay in his dry land hoping he can find water to cultivate his once fertile land. His younger son, Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is always alongside him as they struggle to find a means for survival. With the help of a robotic donkey carrier, he sends supplies to the workers who extract water from deep wells. His relationship with his daughter, Mary (Elle Fanning), isn’t going too well. She has secretly been dating Flem (Nicholas Hoult), who isn’t someone his father trusts. Flem has plans of his own for Ernest’s land and he will stop at nothing in order to get his way. Aimee Mullins has a supporting role as Ernest’s paralytic wife who lives in the hospital where she can use special equipment to move.
The film is divided into three chapters centering on each one of the three male characters. The first centering on Ernest, is by far the best thanks in large part to Michael Shannon’s incredible performance. It also sets the rules for this futuristic world and it manages to engage us. But the promising start of the film quickly dies down in the next two chapters with predictable character arcs and familiar storylines. It is a shame because the film did promise an inventive post apocalyptic setting, but other than the fascinating visuals it doesn’t deliver anything fresh. Despite not having much character development I did enjoy the performances from the talented young cast. Nicholas Hoult is solid as the villain, while Kodi Smit-McPhee once again finds himself playing a character in a desolated future (The Road). He delivers one of the stronger roles and did a decent job holding up his own in the scenes he shared with Shannon. Fanning is an actress I have always admired, but her character is the least developed this time and she doesn’t get to do much here. It is a shame Shannon doesn’t get more screen time because the film loses much of its appeal after that first chapter. He always brings an incredible fresh quality to each one of his characters and in a way Ernest was the reason why this dystopian world seemed so fascinating.
Young Ones is the third consecutive Western I’ve seen and each one has been very different. Once Upon A Time in the West is a masterpiece and a classic spaghetti western, while A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was an Iranian vampire western that was more atmospheric than anything else. This futuristic western is also gorgeous to look at and introduces a rather interesting premise but it loses its appeal after the first part of the film and heads towards generic and familiar territory. I’d still recommend this film because there are some interesting qualities to it and there is also Michael Shannon of course who always delivers. I loved the landscape as well, but the pacing of the story does get tedious and predictable at times.