A Forgotten Night Out

Watching Wasted on the Young is like a less than exciting night out of club. It’s loud, crowded, full of exaggerated gestures and superficial interactions you will forget by the following (hazy) morning. There are a lot of bright lights and thundering beats but no thematic centre.

Ben C. Lucas’ debut has been described as an Australian cross between Gossip Girl and Elephant. It’s similarities to the two are obvious, but I can’t help feeling they are skin deep. Sure, Lucas plays the social commentary card by showing spoiled rich kids as, well, spoiled rich kids with no concern for others. He also brings in guns and anarchy as film becomes crazier and crazier with each passing minute. But this is only window dressing in a movie that seems to be nothing but window dressing.

If I’m going to diss the content I might as well praise the form. Cinematographer Dan Greene works with cool blues and greys that matches the stark minimalism of the large houses and private high school in Perth. Leanne Cole edits like an MTV assistant, cutting from slow motion to frenetic high speeds in swim races and copious coke-snorting scenes (I lost count after the fifth time). A pulsing electronic score makes everything colder and more Kubrickian without the intellectual payoff.

Lucas returns time and time again to the swimming pool, a competition zone where Zack (Alex Russel) and his friends earn their rights to dominate the school hierarchy. Lagging behind them in both speed time and social status is Darren (Oliver Ackland), Zack’s half-brother. Darren, a timid nerd who makes robotic arms in his free time, becomes attracted to mystical Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens). Clemens plays more of an idea than a character, dealing out such heavy-weight statements like “we’re stuck in a bubble while the world keeps turning.” At one of Zack’s drug-fuelled parties she passes out, gets raped by the swimming team, and is left on the beach. The whole event is filmed on one of boy’s cellphones.

This chillingly recalls past incidents of recorded rape among teens – even the recent Pitt Meadows rave. Even more disturbing is the complete alienation Xandrie faces when she returns to school. The double standard – shown through Facebook comments – defends Zacj and his mates as good guys and labels Xandrie as a drunk tramp. Good points made by Lucas, but the characters are one dimensional and his script does not get teenage dialogue, maybe the most difficult age to capture on film. Good direction and bad writing also made Miral a lopsided effort.

Also difficult is how to capture someone’s shift from harmless reject to gun-weilding anarchist. Darren fits the bill exceptionally well: he’s a computer nerd, he has personal grievances against Zack (who drops reminders that his father is screwing Darren’s mother a lot), and he has a woman to fight for. Nonetheless the film feels derailed when he dons a hoodie and gets escorted by tonal elektronica in his quest for vengeance. From then on Lucas works to shock us at every turn, creating multiple would-be cliffhangers and raising the stakes.

Xandrie's got a gun

Overblown yes, and sometimes entertaining. The technique stays interesting and even grows more impressionistic, dipping into subjective ghost visits in the spirit of Six Feet Under. Like The Women before it, Wasted on the Young leaves out the ‘other’ social group, in this case adults. That, I can safely say, is its only similarity to Peanuts.

The inclusion of Facebook and texting eventually becomes important to the film’s conflict. Nail-biting climax excepted, trying to tie in social networking comes across as an attempt at being contemporary. Sorry, but if I want to see a Facebook film I’ll see The Social Network in October. Hopefully Fincher will linger in my mind afterward and stir up some thought. When the credits started rolling for Lucas’s debut, I felt like I had been to a decent club, heard some good songs, but was ready to go out for a smoke without a look back.

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Filed under New Ones, TIFF 2010

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