Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat May 03, 2003 8:00 pm 
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Hard and lonely hours

An outstanding portrayal of the central character and sensitivity toward the scene and milieu make this film worth watching for those who can put up with the discomfort and unpleasantness it shows us. "Young Unknowns" is about a twenty-something at a posh Hollywood Hills house whose father is a successful ad film director currently off working in his native England. The son too has aspirations as an ad director, but at the moment is working harder at being a thoroughly unpleasant person, arrogant and abusive toward his Spanish girlfriend and nearly everyone else and throwing his weight around in a flailing, ugly way that quickly reveals his intense insecurity and loneliness. Overshadowed by his remote dad, Charlie Fox (Devon Gummersall of "My So-Called Life") compensates by pretending to be important and by keeping everyone at an emotional distance. He seems to be bursting with insecure self-importance that is constantly threatening to turn nasty. The people in his immediate vicinity are equally rootless and unhappy and seem themselves about to explode or do each other harm.

As the movie opens, Charlie and his older girlfriend, Paloma (Arly Jover) are getting up at this big, slightly rundown, slightly empty, but still impressive house and taking a swim and having a drink and a smoke. Nothing is really happening, but so much the better to reveal Paloma's boredom and need to medicate herself and Charlie's angry, boastful insecurity. He makes some intensely vulgar sexual remarks to her, but there is no sex and no eroticism and no love. Then along comes Charlie's jive-talking friend Joe (Elon Bailey) with a girl model, Cassandra (Leslie Bibb), and the action, such as it is, begins. There is enough boredom and alienation here to fill an Antonioni movie but there is an added meanness and sense of danger that Antonioni steered clear of. "Young Unknowns" is without real longeurs because the emotions in it are so explosive and dangerous. Jelski keeps the aimlessness compelling through the sheer force of Charlie's bravado.

It soon emerges that Charlie's mother is only one of three of his father's wives, and she was alcoholic and suicidal and faded from view but not from his life when he was twelve; she's somewhere in Vermont now. Charlie has been working on a "spec film" in hopes of becoming the director his father is, and he already boasts to Paloma that he's a big shot. He curses his photographer when he views the rushes on video. He curses Paloma. He curses his mother. He's abusive and hostile to everyone in sight. He ignores phone calls, but is clearly awaiting one from his father -- the only person whom he holds in awe.

The events are so desultory that it's hard to say in what order they occur, but somewhere early on Joe gets physical with Cassandra and breaks her nose, which requires a trip to the hospital. Later Charlie learns that his mother is dead and he puts his hand through a door pane and when he and Joe go back to the hospital they pick up Cassandra, who turns out to be taking pills by the handful. The boys snort meth. Cassandra has an overdose. Charlie finally gets the call from England that he's been waiting for and learns that he must go to Vermont for the funeral alone and can't go over and spend time with his dad as he'd like. He says goodbye to Paloma, who has seemed to want to leave him from the first few frames but unable to bring herself to do so till now. As the movie ends we see Charlie in an airport, alone, waiting to go to Vermont.

The director collaborated with Wolfgang Bauer to adapt his play "Magic Afternoon" into this movie. What makes "Young Unknowns" valid and interesting is the intense, powerful performance of Devon Gummersall, whose impersonation of Charlie is full of commitment yet seamless. Gummersall embodies the self-centered, blustery jerk of a guy that is Charlie with a compelling and mesmerizing command that lacks any hint of theatricality. One can only conclude that he knows whereof he speaks, that indeed everyone concerned does. Arly Jover as Paloma is drenched in burnt out sadness. Elon Bailey as Joe is strange and explosive. Leslie Bibb as Cassandra is a pathetic non-person. Each of the actors gives a nicely individualized portrayal. The result is a slice of life: how the kids of celebrities live and go wrong. It ain't pretty, but it's convincing. "Young Unknowns" opened the same weekend as "Raising Victor Vargas," and made a nice antidote to the latter's adorable sweetness and its very different sort of authenticity. It's too bad few who see Sollett's movie will see Jelski's and compare these two contrasting worlds, and too bad that the adept acting and direction of "Young Unknowns" will be lost on people turned off by the unappealing subject matter. Naivety is not the only thing in this world that can be "authentic."

May 2, 2003

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