It really sucks being the son of a wealthy movie director. That's what I learned from sitting through the oh-so-indie The Young Unknowns. It's a low-budget "film festival" sort of movie, the kind that's filled with blathering monologues, unlikable characters, grainy photography, and a casual disdain for the simple telling an actual story. So while I can grasp the concept that The Young Unknowns is meant to be some sort of steely-eyed snapshot of bored, petulant, and disaffected youth -- that doesn't mean it actually means anything to me.
Based on a stage play entitled "Magic Afternoon," The Young Unknowns is not "about" much more than one long day in which four young "unknowns" wander around, argue a lot, treat each other like garbage, drink lots of alcohol, and do fistfuls of drugs. The setting, for the most part, is the palatial estate of Charlie's dad. While daddy's shooting on location in London, Charlie and his girlfriend Paloma hold down the homefront. (Which basically means: swim in the pool and empty the liquor cabinet.)
Paloma works as a commercial production manager, and in her spare time she (apparently) enjoys nothing more than being verbally abused by the amazing blowhard known as Charlie. For his part, Charlie is content to simply sit by the phone, forever awaiting that phone call from Daddy that will begin his career as a hot young filmmaker. Occasionally Charlie will step away from the phone so he can explain to Paloma what a clueless moron she is.
Once in a while Charlie's pal Joe stops by. Joe likes to banter like a black dude, brag about the hos he's baggin', and periodically punch women in the face. I may be mistaken, but I think that Joe is meant to be the "comic relief" of The Young Unknowns, which is kinda scary. The fourth member of our justifiably unknown quartet is a young, pretty idiot-girl called Cassandra who, not surprisingly, is an aspiring model. Because we all know that every model in the world is a coked-up, pill-popping female imbecile who continues to hang out with a guy who, just an hour earlier, broke her nose.
So these four idiots (ok, Paloma's not really an idiot, but she sure doesn't seem to mind hanging out with 'em!) spend the day listening to Charlie talk about how he's "gonna make it on his own" (while he's also waiting for that charitable phone call from Daddy), forever knocking back shots and speed-balls as if they were candy. The self-obsessed and generally tiresome screenplay consists mainly of:
Charlie acting like an amazing asshole before offering a half-hearted apology.
Paloma rolling her eyes at the outrageous immaturity of the man she calls her boyfriend.
Joe dancing around like a fool while offering long diatribes about bitches this and hoochie dat.
Cassandra staring around like the world's stupidest kitten, infinitely too dumb to simply remove herself from this day of non-stop abuse.
About 40 minutes into the movie, something resembling a plot stops by: Charlie's mother, a raging alcoholic who lives in Vermont, has died. Cue a few more buckets of blustery angst for good ol' Charlie.
To be fair, a few of the performances in the film are quite good; if Devon Gummersall was asked to inhabit a character who's all but entirely obnoxious and detestable, then the guy did a bang-up job of it. As Paloma, the lovely Arly Jover brings a bit more gravity to her performance than what there must have been on the page, and therein lies what I see as The Young Unknowns' biggest problem:
Writer/director Catherine Jelski has managed to create some fairly intriguing and semi-magnetic characters. We might not like these folks (especially that jerk-off Joe), but there's little denying that they're pretty interesting to watch ... for a while, anyway. What we have here is four potentially fascinating people who are given nothing interesting to do. I get the point of this approach (i.e. these characters are aimless), but without some small semblance of a plot or a narrative arc of some sort, we're left watching four generally unpleasant people sitting around a house, bitching about their lives and treating each other like crap.
Now put some sort of a story under these folks and we might really have something. Instead, The Young Unknowns feels like a pity-party for a few spoiled jerks who, all things considered, don't really merit 90 minutes of my undivided attention.
Video: We're talking about a low-budget shot-on-video indie flick here, so don't go in expecting anything too flashy. But the Widescreen (Anamorphic) transfer does a fine job of bringing the intended image home.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 all the way. Dialogue is often low and muffled, which means you'll have to lean on your VOL+ button, but then you'll have to crank that sound down when the hip-hop tunes kick in. Kind of annoying, actually.
There's a feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Catherine Jelski and cinematographer/editor Gabor Szitanyi, which could prove to be rather interesting to the hardcore indie cinephiles out there. The two commentators cover a wide array of topics, from cinematic influences to the casting process, with lots of production anecdotes dropped in. It's not the most electric track I've ever heard, but C & J keep the conversation flowing pretty smoothly.
The Making of a Poster is a 4-minute featurette that focuses on various marketing concepts for The Young Unknowns. Designer Adam Waldman and marketing executive "Randy" offer audio commentary as a series of proposed posters, pictures, and DVD cases flash by. Pretty interesting stuff, actually.
You'll also find a 13-minute bonus short film entitled Ladies Room, from director Kate Bernstein (which is actually quite cool), and a collection of trailers for The Young Unknowns, Face, Fabled, A Wake in Providence, and Solitude.
I fully grasp the point that The Young Unknowns is slingin', but I can't help but think these are four potentially fascinating characters stuck in a movie that simply pays them too much attention. By the time the movie hits the 45-minute mark, you'll most likely want to slap all four of 'em and call it a day.