Here Are the Young Men

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Three Irish gobshites have a last summer of fun before maturity claims them in Eoin Macken’s Here Are the Young Men, a tantalising mix of the familiar and the fantastical.

It’s nearly 50 years since Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. Made in 1971 but nostalgic for 20 years earlier, it wrote the blueprint for these “last summer” films. It’s the way Macken follows that blueprint and then veers madly away from it that gives this Here Are the Young Men its flavour.

Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman), Kearney (Finn Cole) and Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) are three laddish lads in 1990s Dublin, lairy, sweary, drinky, druggy, out to have a good time now that school has finally let them go – and getting the ball rolling by spraying their old classrooms with graffiti before trashing the head’s car.

Matthew’s the down-the-middle one – could go either way – Kearney the wild instigator, Rez is more your sixth form existentialist and bedroom depressive. He’s also the source of their drugs, “oxy” being popular, especially washed down with vodka and chased with a line of cocaine.

And, er, that’s it, three guys doing a lot of drugs, dancing and booze, having fun, superficially at least. But there is a life out there to be lived, glimpses of which Macken and co-writer Rob Doyle (who wrote the original novel) tantalise the lads with as they spend a summer embracing, ignoring or rejecting the fact that, at some point, they have to engage.

Anya Taylor-Joy (Dublin accent pretty damn good) is the get-out-of-Dodge girl they all fancy but Matthew actually gets to be with, her can-do spirit the antithesis of his go-with-the-flow. And there’s an incident early on, when a child is run over and killed by a car, that points up the fragility of life. Boys, you’re not as immortal as you fancy. Carpe diem, and all that.

Matthew and Jen in a room bathed in a purple glow
Last summer of fun for Matthew and Jen

Kicking off with a scuzzy, Trainspotting kind of fizz – the way music is used to deliver energy in particular – the film soon settles down into two grooves. The first is realist, following the lads on their adventures on a summer of partying. The other is fantastical, and is set in a make-believe TV studio where a Jerry Springer-style host of a particularly lairy sort goads Kearney into excesses of performative masculinity, all the while whipping his audience into a frenzy, whether it’s by humiliating people or whipping out a gun.

The two worlds and film-making styles do eventually converge in the film’s climax, a shocker which neatly pulls all the strands together too, even if the impression remains that the film isn’t really sure if it’s more interested in boring but relatable Matthew or mad but fascinating Kearney. The inwardly focused Rez it seems to have put to one side.

You might recognise Dean-Charles Chapman from Peter Jackson’s 1917, and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo from Sing Street. Finn Cole is new to me but a firecracker as Kearney, likeable but a liability, with a psychopath’s cold beady eye which will lead either to mad success or big trouble. We’ve all known a Kearney.

The rest of the cast is much more familiar. Getting the most screen time is Anya Taylor-Joy, a hot property since 2015’s The Witch. Travis Fimmel is the Springer-style TV host (director Macken and Fimmel were models back in the day, so maybe that’s where that connection was made). A barely-there Ralph Ineson (Taylor-Joy’s The Witch co-star) is the headmaster, Susan Lynch plays Matthew’s mum, and, yes, that really was Noomi Rapace in a bizarre blur-on cameo at one point.

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

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