It takes a few minutes to get past the feeling that “Here Are the Young Men” isn’t a simplistic “Trainspotting” homage, some sort of boys-come-of-age, generationally-indulgent wank with an Irish accent.
The characters are “types” — the rebellious lad entering the workforce with lust in his heart and a mouth always open for whatever pill is proffered, the long-haired sensitive druggy who has found love if he can figure out what to do with it and the raging hothead always up for a little ultraviolence.
Sound familiar, Begbie fans?
But whatever novelist Rob Doyle owes to “Trainspotting” writer Irvine Welsh as chronicler of the drug abuse of an era — the early 2000s here — the film of it goes further, turning the violent hothead character into an Incel age example of toxic masculinity and the broader theme that escaping it is even harder than quitting drugs.
Dean-Charles Chapman is Matthew, just finishing school and about to have his eyes opened about what he’s always been told will be “the best summer of your life.”
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays Rez, a bookish type with a sort-of girlfriend and the most access to drugs.
And Finn Cole (“Peaky Blinders,” “Animal Kingdom”) is Kearney, coiled-rage incarnate, impulsive and capable of most anything. Their mutual friend Jen (“It” girl Anya-Taylor-Joy) speaks for us all when she asks “Has anyone ever told you you have an extremely punchable face?” He does. Which partly explains why he’s eager to get in the first blow.
We figure every character’s thing in the opening scenes, where Matthew is calmly lectured on “the choices you make” by his headmaster (Ralph Ineson), only to walk out of school, dump his school jacket in Dublin’s River Liffey and join his mates for a little sneak back into school (Kearney was expelled) for a little good-natured vandalism. Kearney goes berserk.
And in the film’s first suggestion that we’re not stuck in reality, the headmaster calmly shakes his head as he walks up on them destroying his car.
This is the summer Matthew will start work at the tire shop, Rez will read, get high and aimlessly postpone his future and Kearney will brag about running off to America. Jen will seem more mature than all three put together, and somehow decide the tire shop lad is “sensitive” enough for a summer fling before she “travels” or goes to university. And they’ll all dive into the pills that are the drug of choice in 2003.
As they hit clubs and raves, experience epiphanies via a homeless addict and try to ignore how different they are from one another, the days start to seem like a fever dream version of their favorite abusive TV chat show, whose judgmental creep of a host (Travis Fimmel) eggs them on, heightens their contrasts and in their dreams, points them at a reckoning.
That’s what you’d call the “inciting incident” in this drama. There’s a death, one that they’re too stoned to prevent and slow to recognize as a trauma they will never get over, even if it eventually teaches them the valuable lesson that school and the headmaster did not.
Actor turned director Eoin Macken has trouble keeping the unreality clearly separate from the reality they live through and we witness. The many surreal “chat show” breaks speak to the delusions of youth, narcissism and callousness. But while it’s cliche to have the boys so haunted by an accident that “not feeling anything” about it drives each deeper into his own insecurities, that plays as engrossing drama.
Taylor-Joy, who blew up thanks to her turn on Netflix’s “Queen’s Gambit,” is the reason this otherwise marginal, phallocentric parable merits wider release, even though her role here, while pivotal, is limited. Jen is the character who makes the least sense with this lot. Her every entrance suggests “out of their league.” That holds true for the performances, too. She’s the only one who transcends playing a “type.”
Still, “Here are the Young Men” makes for an interesting snapshot of yet another version of “wayward youth.” And while we can take comfort from the generational move from heroin (of “Trainspotting”) to Oxy and MDMA (“Molly”), the one hope the film leaves us with is that the toxic masculinity of that age group is at least being acknowledged. Maybe the next generation will be the one that grapples with that core problem, a big reason for drug-dabbling bravado, and rejects it before doing itself permanent damage.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, sex, some nudity, profanity
Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, Finn Cole, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Travis Fimmel, Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy
Credits: Scripted and directed by Eoin Macken, based on the novel by Rob Doyle. A Well Go release.
Running time: 1:36