With the 34th Sundance Film Festival in full swing in beautiful Park City, Utah, the very best of independent and world cinema comes together for two exciting weeks at the beginning of each year to celebrate low-budget filmmaking. There are a number of movies I’m looking forward to this year, namely Belle & Sebastian’s God Help the Girl, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and the new post-apocalyptic science fiction film Young Ones.
For the uninitiated, Young Ones is a new film from director Jake Paltrow. It’s set in the future, where water is scarce and people trade in goods, alcohol, and sex. In essence, the movie is a Western, but set in the future. The film follows Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon), his son Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and his daughter Mary (Elle Fanning). The family trades in alcohol, while they try to find irrigation for their arid land. Young Ones sounds like a cross between No Country for Old Men and District 9, with elements of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. From the early reviews and reactions out of Park City, the film sounds brutal, bleak, and violent. Total Film says of Young Ones:
Young Ones feels less for, err, young ones than an older new-western audience; its romance doomed, its protagonists forced to grow up in suffering while sci-fi elements (the robot cow, the exoskeleton Shannon’s paraplegic wife is fitted with) blend comfortably against the red/brown landscape.
Slow and unrelenting, expertly performed and extremely stylish, Young Ones couldn’t be further from Cowboys Vs Aliens, and could well set a new generation searching out John Ford and Sergio Leone.
However, despite the early buzz and an interesting premise, some critics aren’t as won over. Guy Lodge from HitFix says the film doesn’t quite work as a hybrid, or as an exercise in genre filmmaking. It seems that the film is full of style, but overall, Young Ones has nothing to say. According to Lodge:
Arriving in Sundance on a tide of buzz that seems justified only by its on-paper singularity, Jake Paltrow’s infallibly earnest genre experiment Young Ones marries the stark heartland integrity of John Steinbeck to the post-apocalyptic nihilism of Mad Max, with the waxen self-importance of neither. Relocating a classical land-ownership saga to a barren New-Old West situated, we can only hope, in the very distant future, it, Paltrow’s film never quite finds the happy medium between B-movie splatter and literary elevation…
While the consensus of critics seem mixed on Young Ones, it feels like many are underwhelmed by the film. David Rooney of Deadline says:
Ponderous, self-important and thematically narrow, Jake Paltrow’s dystopian future Western set in a Dust Bowl where water is controlled by the state and monopolized by industry is all oppressive mood and atmosphere with not much on its mind beyond an old-fashioned tale of murder, retribution and a robo-cow. Young Ones is visually commanding and not without inventive ideas, plus its pared-down narrative at least rescues Michael Shannon from the thudding memory of Man of Steel. But otherwise this lethargically paced, dehydrated update on There Will Be Blood will be strictly for artsy minimalist sci-fi enthusiasts.
Of course, these are just early reactions to a film that has yet to distribution. If Young Ones is flawed, there’s a good chance it might be modified before it hits theaters. It also might play differently for general audiences and genre fans than it did for critics during a busy film festival.
Young Ones also stars Nicholas Hoult, Alex McGregor, Aimee Mullins, and Robert Hobbs. There is no official release date yet, but it’s expected in theaters later this year.