daniel cohen is young and wild and free …
Plot: Two step-brothers on opposite ends of the social spectrum at an elite private school are at odds after Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens), a friend of the less popular brother Darren (Oliver Ackland), is abused at a wild party hosted by the popular brother Zack (Alex Russell).
The phrase ‘You can’t have your cake, and eat it too’ could not be truer when talking about Wasted on the Young, directed by newcomer Ben C. Lucas. This film tries to be both a realistic and fantastical high school drama, but can’t make up it’s mind. As the film progresses, it gets more and more ridiculous, yet there’s still this aura of real life that hovers around it, making for an overall clunky and disjointed movie. There’s some great acting, good confrontations, and moments of tension to be sure, but there’s just something about this film that feels off.
The movie starts off pretty focused. It’s a little over-stylized, but does a good job setting up who we’re supposed to like and dislike, especially with Xandrie, the good girl, and Zack, the asshole jock. The problem is with the actual protagonist, Darren, played by Oliver Ackland. It’s clear the movie wants you to like him, but I did not care for Ackland’s performance. And yes, I understand the character is supposed to be awkward and reserved, but it was way over-played. The real meat of this story is the conflict between Xandrie and Zack.
One of the strengths of the film is the war of words between these two characters. The best scene in the movie is when Zack and Xandrie meet one-on-one days after her life changing ordeal in which she was drugged and abused by Zack and his cronies. Zack basically rubs it in her face that because he is so well loved and respected, no one will believe her story. This is a chilling moment, and almost comes off as a great super villain speech, and Alex Russell nails it. Russell showed a lot of promise in Chronicle, and is an actor I hope continues to rise up the ranks.
There’s a scene later on where these two characters have another intense confrontation in the middle of the school that is equally riveting, but this time it’s Adelaide Clemens who shines. She conveys a look that is both ‘I’m terrified’ and ‘I don’t give a fuck anymore.’ I wish the movie was much more focused on just them, and Darren was downplayed significantly. Whenever he came into the picture, it just wasn’t as interesting. I also wish there were more dialogue scenes. There are so many quiet character moments, but the characters just aren’t that interesting to pull those scenes off.
I’ll give the movie credit as I was invested all the way through, and did want to see how this would ultimately all play out, but there are two aspects to this whole thing that I just can’t let pass. Normally these are nitpicky things, but they were overwhelmingly irritating. One is that Darren has clear evidence in the middle of the film that he can simply take to the police to expose Zack and his friends once and for all. But the movie never offers a logical explanation of why he doesn’t. The film tries to sell you on, ‘Well, Darren still kind of likes his brother’ and ‘The police won’t believe him anyway, because everybody loves Zack,’ but the script does a poor job of conveying these explanations.
But my second complaint is a lot more egregious, and why you almost have to take this movie as pure fantasy. WHERE ARE THE ADULTS!? There are no adults anywhere to be found. Mom and Dad are mentioned. The school principal is mentioned. But there’s some pretty serious shit going on, but no adults. At one point, Zack’s dickhead best friend Brook (T.J. Power) chases Darren throughout the whole school, yet still no adult present. Then there’s another scene where one of the main characters has a gun in the middle of the hallway, and it’s just a bunch of kids standing around watching. And it’s not like it’s a two second scene. The gun is exposed in the middle of the hallway for like ten minutes, and there are no adults anywhere in this school. We even have scenes where kids are in class … where are the teachers!? And I get Zack is popular, and they make it clear all the teachers love him, but I’m sorry, he runs the school like a mafia kingpin. This movie wants to be taken so seriously about teenagers and high school, but how am I supposed to take it that way with how ridiculous it gets.
And while I was engaged the whole way through, I did not like how it was all wrapped up. First of all, the end solution was pretty murky, and not executed very well. Also, and this adds to the whole unbelievability of it all, but the teenagers don’t react normally at all, especially at the end. I suppose it’s conceivable 1 or 2 them might react this way in the situation that was presented, but all of them … it’s extraordinarily far-fetched. The end leaves a really bad taste in your mouth, which can be fine, but this ending felt very forced to leave that bad taste. Everyone comes off as just so damn unlikable.
There’s some beautiful imagery in this film, good performances, riveting dialogue, and has a jump scare moment that genuinely caught me off guard, which is hard to do. But it’s just too cold for it’s own good. It’s sort of like a D-level Requiem for a Dream, whereas that movie was depressing at the end to be sure, but it’s tone was consistent, and had for more interesting characters. While there’s some very good individual moments here, it’s too all over the place to be taken seriously.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (‘meh’)