You'd think it'd be hard to mess up a sci-fi/western hybrid starring Michael Shannon, but Quint says Young Ones did just that.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a look at the first Sundance film I out and out didn't like. The reason The Young Ones irked me so much is that it had every reason in the world to be good. It's a near-future sci-fi tale about a family trying to survive a decades long drought that essentially turns their land into a desert. The world around them has turned a little post-apocalyptic, but the father figure knows the land is still fertile and does everything he can to weather out the drought and keep his family safe.
Decent premise. Check.
What about the cast? Michael Shannon is the protective father who carries a rifle/shotgun combo, Let Me In's Kodi Smit-McPhee (now in his gangly teenager phase) is his loving son, Elle Fanning is his not-so-loving daughter and Warm Bodies' Nicholas Hoult is the active threat to the family, an opportunistic morally corrupt young man who is secretly wooing Fanning's character.
Great central cast? Check.
So where did this go wrong? It's almost hard to find a place to begin. I'm a huge nerd for post-apocalyptic tales and though this film isn't exactly a perfect fit for that genre plot-wise you can tell director Jake Paltrow is trying to play in that genre. I'd also be willing to bet either Paltrow or his production designer is a massive fan of Fallout 3 because there are more than a couple things in the movie that seem to nod to that amazing video game, from a Three Dog-like radio DJ to the face of the family robot mule thing looking suspiciously like the screen of a Pip-boy.
All that should have made me overlook whatever shortcomings because of my blind adoration of all things Fallout and post-apocalyptia, but instead I found myself just getting more and more irate at the film for not living up to its potential.
I can more easily forgive a bad film being bad than a bad film that could have and should have been good. I'm sure Paltrow had a smaller budget than he needed to fully execute an epic story, but that still doesn't excuse the squandered cast and the editing that is so sloppy as to be distracting.
Michael Shannon is the only actor who escapes this film unscathed. Both Fanning and Hoult turn in career worst performances, but I don't blame them at all. At the end of the day Paltrow is the one that has to be responsible for protecting his actors in the edit and as the writer he also has to own their sloppy dialogue.
Again, the movie isn't awful, which is why it's so frustrating. There are glimpses of the movie it wants to be scattered throughout. I particularly liked what they did to give personality to the family's quadraped carrier mule robot (which I'm pretty sure is the same military robot people were freaking out about that could outrun humans). Also, taking the Mad Max concept, but substituting water for gasoline is a great setup. The design work is solid, the VFX are good, but the script feels like it's first draft level, the direction of the actors (especially Fanning) left a lot to be desired and the cinematography lacked personality.
I hate to be tough on Paltrow, who was a nice enough guy when I met him way back when he premiered his first feature, The Good Night, at a previous Sundance. Obviously has his heart in the right place, but I really feel like he dropped the ball on this one. No matter the difficulties he faced during the making of the movie he still had top tier actors and effects people. Perhaps another pass in the editing room could tighten it up and might frame his actors a little bit better. Perhaps. But the version that played Sundance was a massive letdown for me.
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