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Non-Review Review: The Young Offenders

The Young Offenders is mighty Cork, boi.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Peter Foott’s coming of age adventure comedy is its sense of place. There are any number of Irish films that depict modern rural life, most obviously the films of John McDonagh (Calvary or The Guard) or Garage or even Smalltown. However, for all that those stories deal with big themes and bold ideas, it is rare to get a perfect sense of place. As with just about any country, Ireland offers a rich and diverse cultural landscape, and The Young Offenders is interested in exploring that landscape even before the first use of a map insert.

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Cork very much exists on its own terms, quite apart from the country around it. It has its own unique character and identity, “the rebel county” at the heart of “the Republic of Munster.” Such cultural divisions are not uncommon in countries of all shapes and sizes, and the joy of world cinema is taking a chance to explore beyond the stock images of a country to get a sense of place. Rural Ireland is quite distinct from Dublin, and Cork has its own distinctive attributes even beyond that.

The beauty of The Young Offenders lies in the way that it captures this sense of unique Corkonian identity. It goes beyond the familiar Cork accents or the prominent use of the English Market. It extends to the finer details, from the fact that teenagers in 2016 are still watching Heat on VHS and texting on what appear to be old Nokia phones through to questionable teenage mustaches and tacky gold-chains. The Young Offenders is very much an affectionate exaggeration of life in rural Ireland, but it captures the feeling remarkably well. Though that might just be the bad dance music.

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Inspired by the largest seizure of cocaine in the history of the Irish State, and the missing bail of cocaine missing from the find, The Young Offenders imagines its two teenage protagonists setting off on a mythic adventure to find that lost bag and earn enough money to escape their lives. Inevitably, The Young Offenders turns into a chase movie involving both an obsessive police officer and a sociopathic gangster, but the tone is always one of whimsy. The film thrives off the juxtapositions, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by way of No Country for Old Men.

Writer and director Peter Foott has a great deal of fun playing the goofiness of the teenage adventure against the expectations of a drug thriller. There are a number of affectionate nods towards more serious Irish film fare, most notably during a scene in which teenage protagonists weigh up the morality of stealing from a disabled victim that feels like a direct nod towards (a far more harrowing) sequence in Adam and Paul or the fact that P.J. Gallagher plays a gangster with a clubbed foot which is something of an inversion of My Left Foot.

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There are certainly points at which The Young Offenders feels a little too thinly drawn for its own good, populated more by caricatures than characters. Similarly, some of the film’s gags feel over-extended, as if the camera has been left running on an improv session. However, the film generally moves quickly enough (and is funny enough) that this is never too much of an issue. The lead performances from Chris Walley and Alex Murphy as Jock and Conor help to carry the film, skilfully bouncing off one another and selling both the movie’s goofier gags and its title characters.

The Young Offenders is a light film, but a charming one.

 

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2 Responses

  1. A great review of a very good film, cheers.

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