This week isn’t a particularly big week for movies. There’s only one major release—a romantic comedy starring Gerard Butler that, if it’s like his last genre endeavor, The Bounty Hunter, is bound to fail—and only a few little nothing movies that will barely see the light of day. Two of those movies share similar approaches. The documentary Tchoupitoulas follows a few young boys around as they discover New Orleans nightlife and are forced to come-of-age and it’s fairly awful, never coming close to anything even remotely insightful. However, Only the Young, a film that follows a group of punk skater kids around is decidedly different. There is real depth here, both in the characters and in the emotional pull of the film.
The two main subjects are a couple of high school kids named Garrison and Kevin. They live in a small desert town in California and they love to skate. In fact, they spend almost all their time together doing just that. For years, they’ve been inseparable and despite some bumps in the road, including an awkward kiss Kevin shares with Garrison’s ex-girlfriend, Skye, they remain close. This is the heart and soul of Only the Young. It’s about two boys who don’t really know where their lives are heading or where they’ll be in 10 years, but, frankly, they don’t care. They live in the moment, rarely showing signs of sadness or fatigue. They cherish every moment together and brighten up when one sees the other coming.
But their personalities are deeper than a mutual bond they share with each other and it all hearkens back to Garrison’s unwillingness to harbor any resentment towards Kevin when he kisses Skye. He cares too much for his friend to do so and he genuinely wants him to succeed. When Kevin qualifies for a skate contest, but then fails to place, Garrison, even at his young age, doesn’t ridicule his friend like many would. He instead talks of how proud he is of Kevin for even getting to that point. Skaters and punk rock kids are always seen as rebellious and godless, but that’s not necessarily the case (as seen when Garrison and Kevin head out with a religious organization to a local skate park and try to spread the gospel through skateboarding). These kids are surprisingly selfless and profoundly mature.
Perhaps the best example of this maturity comes during an interview with Skye when she discusses a time when she was still with Garrison. She speaks highly of him, stressing the importance of a real connection, someone you can have fun with and love without getting physical. She then suddenly reveals that Garrison never even kissed her, which may sound strange to us, but it didn’t bother her. As she says, she’s had enough kisses to know they don’t mean much unless there’s something special behind it. Did I mention these kids were still in high school?
Only the Young is about friendship, teenage anxiety, romance, growing up, moving on and it even puts faith (and the struggle with it) in greater context in the back half of the film. The problem is that at only 70 minutes, less if you don’t include the credits, it doesn’t take the time it needs to fully explore these themes. They’re definitely there and they’re easy to recognize, but too often they’re sped through, usually right when they’re starting to nail some bigger meaning. Nevertheless, the film is infinitely more interesting than one might expect it to be. What often happens when putting real life kids on camera is they act out, trying to impress rather than acting normally. Rarely does it feel that way here and when emotion seeps through, particularly with the effervescent Skye, who is dealing with a father in jail, a heroine addicted mother and the foreclosure of her grandparents’ home, it’s real. Only the Young looks pretty simple on the surface, but when you step back and put all the pieces together, it proves itself to be something quite special.
Only the Young receives 4/5