Movie Review: 'Here are the Young Men' Takes Advantage of Anya Taylor-Joy
A movie about young degenerates in Ireland is marketed as a vehicle for the star of Queen's Gambit, it's not.
Here are the Young Men is a young adult novel that must have been an absolute beast trying to adapt into a screenplay. Though the film has traditional characters and a gritty coming of age story, the book employs fanciful, dreamlike elements to communicate the mental state of the 4 male protagonists and one female character in their sphere. The film drops one of the male characters and tries to keep the fantasy and dream-like elements and comes off as chaotic and hard to follow.
Here are the Young Men, the movie, centers around the experiences of Matthew Connelly (Dean-Charles Chapman), a recent High School graduate in Ireland. Facing his final summer before he must start to become a grown-up, Matthew’s main interests are girls, getting wasted with his friends, and working just enough to get money for his next night of debauchery. Aiding in Matthew’s wasted youth are his two closest friends, Kearney (Finn Cole) and Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Sing Street).
Matthew has long nursed a crush on Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy) and he hopes to get closer to her before they both move on at the end of the Summer. Thus, in between debauched nights of getting wasted on drugs and booze, we get a smattering of sweet moments between Matthew and Jen. Arguably, the best scene in all of Here are the Young Men is a quiet moment when a sober Matthew sheepishly asks the outgoing Jen to be his girlfriend. She busts him up a little before accepting. It’s a charming scene mostly because Anya Taylor-Joy is so very good.
Matthew’s life, and those of Kearney and Rez, are changed forever following a full night out, all the way to the dawn. As the three are stumbling home, they encounter a young girl running through the streets. Matthew had a moment with the very young girl when he’d seen her minutes earlier on the beach. It was a rare and wholesome moment until Kearney said something crude and the spell was broken. They encounter the girl again as she goes running past them chasing her ball before she’s struck by a car and killed instantly, right before their eyes.
Rez takes this moment harder than anyone. He’d left his friends to find a restroom and was returning to them when the accident occurred. Whether it was because he saw the accident in full while Matthew and Kearney only caught the immediate aftermath or he thought that he might have prevented the accident if he hadn’t left his friends, it’s unclear. What is clear as that this moment spins Rez off into a despondent, suicidal depression. When Matthew fails to recognize just how much he’s struggling, Rez cuts off contact.
This comes just as Kearney has left for America. Kearney was already rather disconnected from reality due to potentially being an outright psychopath. The accident appears to have awakened his dormant sadism while underlining his belief that life is worthless. We regularly peer into Kearney’s psyche via his fantasies surrounding a television talk show with an unnamed, wacky, confrontational host, played by Vikings star Travis Fimmel. In these fantasy/dream sequences, Kearney’s raging ego and violent tendencies come to the fore, egged on by the host who acts as a devil on his shoulder.
These fantasy sequences are by far the weakest element of the movie. Fimmel’s character is a waste of screen time who adds nothing to the proceedings aside from his lunatic energy. The presentation of the character is utterly confounding. He’s introduced as the real life host of a show called The Big Show, which Kearney’s father enjoys watching. It then transitions into being an expression of Kearney’s violent, transgressive fantasies. But, late in the movie, Matthew begins to appear in this fantasy and in one scene, Kearney isn’t even present.
The rest of the movie is a chaotic mess. Director Eoin Macken employs an ugly canvas on which to present this story and while the grit and grime is intentional, the color and the camerawork only serve to make the story feel even more jarring, out of control and meandering. Drug and booze filled scenes are nearly impossible to follow with a complete lack of any basic geography of any place or time. This, again, I believe is intentional but it doesn’t make the movie easy to watch.
Here are the Young Men also carries the unfortunate stench of a cash-in. Since the film wrapped in 2019, Anya Taylor-Joy has gone from a budding movie star to a major star on streaming television. Taylor-Joy is now the star of the Netflix chess drama The Queen’s Gambit. The show was one of the most talked about hits of 2020 and it’s hard to imagine Here are the Young Men making it to American audiences without her having played a rather modest supporting role. To my point, the film’s poster features her more prominently than her male co-stars who are clearly the stars of the movie.
That’s not a knock on Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance which is, not surprisingly, the best thing in Here are the Young Men. She’s a legit star with magnetism, depth and charisma. She has a remarkable presence and her scenes opposite Chapman give the film a vibrancy and life that the rest of the movie is lacking. Most of Here are the Young Men is a confounding mishmash of styles and a meandering story about growing up and trauma. There are good elements in play but as a whole, Here are the Young Men isn’t worth the hard work of struggling to put it together while you watch it.