The Young Unknowns

The Young Unknowns

USA, 2000. Rated R. 87 minutes.

Cast: Devon Gummersall, Eion Bailey, Arly Jover, Leslie Bibb, Dale Godboldo, Simon Templeman (voice)
Writer: Catherine Jelski, based on the play "Magic Afternoon" by Wolfgang Bauer
Music: Hypnogaja
Cinematographer: Gabor Szitanyi
Producers: Catherine Jelski, Kimberly Shane O'Hara
Director: Catherine Jelski


Grade: F Review by Jeff Vorndam

S ome movies deserve to remain unreleased. The Young Unknowns, the debut film from writer-director Catherine Jelski, deserves to have its negatives destroyed. Alas, this isn't likely to happen, since the closing credits announce that Jelski herself owns the negatives. My guess is she couldn't find any takers for them.

Perhaps I should feel bad about laying into a poor little independent film. I'm sure Jelski and her crew worked hard, and funding for independent films isn't easy to obtain. But just because you can make a film doesn't mean you should, and just because a story is true, doesn't mean it's worth telling.

I suppose there are people like Charlie, the haughty and puerile protagonist played by Devon Gummersall. They are the type of people you hope will crash and burn, and perhaps learn some humility in the process. Over the course of the film, Charlie does crash and burn, but doesn't appear to have learned anything from the experience. If anything, the events have only deepened his substantial reservoir of self-pity. In the end, there are two equally appalling ways to read the film: as an attempt to wring sympathy for a repulsive character, or as an exposť of the lifestyle of the spoiled rich. Executed with style and good acting, this film could at least achieve the level of mediocrity reached by Igby Goes Down. Lacking both, it's an aggravating waste of time.

The Young Unknowns is based on a play, and it shows. Most of the action unfolds on one set, a house in the Hollywood Hills where Charlie is housesitting for his father Sebastian, a big-time director of commercials. The story lurches along with the familiarity of the conventional play: introduction of the characters, followed by a crisis and a resolution. The dialogue is close to realistic--you won't find any bon mots like you would in a Mamet or Rabe adaptation. At times it even sounds like bad improvisation; the actors rely on props excessively, repeat their sentences, and resort to incoherent profanity.

There are four characters in the film: Charlie, a wannabe director; his vaguely foreign girlfriend Paloma (Arly Jover), a wannabe actress; his moronic buddy Joe (Eion Bailey), a wannabe black man; and a girl Joe has picked up named Cassandra (Leslie Bibb), a wannabe model. The wannabe story consists of Charlie berating and abusing Paloma, Joe berating and abusing Cassandra, Charlie and Joe engaging in unsubtle homoerotic activities like wrestling, the four of them drinking and snorting drugs, Charlie awaiting a telephone call from his father Sebastian, and Charlie griping about his sorry lot in life. A typical scene features Joe, ceremoniously swigging from a prop bottle of vodka, belittling Cassandra, who is snorting coke, provoking the laughter of Charlie, who is yelling at Paloma for trying to use the phone. Charlie's laughter precipitates another bout of wrestling. This is repeated well beyond the limits of human endurance until SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS, which causes much wailing and grinding of teeth.

If The Young Unknowns is a critique of masculinity, or an examination of the ruinous wake of bad parenting, it is laughably inept. It merely presents a group of dunderheads, and only provides the most skeletal of causes for their idiocy. Inattentive parents, alcoholism, money, and perhaps even African-American culture--at least as interpreted through the eyes of a couple of dimwits--are posited as factors that led to these youngsters' current unhappiness. The skin-depth isn't helped by the lack of a character to care about. I don't demand that characters in movies be likable, or even sympathetic, but I do think they should be interesting. There is absolutely nothing of interest about Charlie, Joe, Paloma, or Cassandra. They are objects of derision, nothing more. It's only right then that The Young Unknowns is the object of my derision, and nothing more.

Review © October 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2002 Indican Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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