June 27, 2011

Wasted on the Young (Australia 2010)

It is a product of our time that films and TV shows about rich disaffected teenagers enjoy such an ongoing popularity. Only few of them look beneath the surface. In his aptly titled film "Wasted on the Young" Australian first-time director Ben C. Jones wants to denounce the lack of morality and shallow hedonism that is characteristic of not just the rich kids in the film but in fact, the whole current generation. But despite these good intentions he fails - albeit in a spectacular fashion. 

His approach is to critize the character's superficiality by exaggarating it so much that the term heightened reality is taken to an entirely different level here. He creates a unique over-the-top world with its own rules that is hip and, above all, meticulously stylized. Thus the whole film looks and feels like an overlong music video. It is set in a private school located in an extremely affluent beach community in Australia. But if this brings to mind TV shows like "Gossip Girl" and "90210", it's a long way from afternoon entertainment. With its sombre tone, the film is more like "The O.C. with an overdose" with the 2005 teen neo-noir "Brick" being another soulmate. The degenerated kids in the film behave like zombies in a way that makes Blair Waldorf and other High School bitches look like innocent angels. Parents and teachers are nowhere to be found and emotions are equally missing.

When I saw the film at the Munich Film Festival, I experienced a rollercoaster ride. At times, I was captivated by the atmosphere of the film and fascinated by watching this impalpable circle of the ultra-privileged. But there were also times, especially towards the expected weak ending when I started to hate the self-indulgence of both the director and the film's characters. Ultimately I didn't like the film but I have to admit that I at least partially enjoyed watching it.

Director Ben C. Jones shows some talent but he should have made a little effort studying film history before making his film. He would have learned that criticizing the vain decadence of the upper class can easily have the opposite effect. Many people see the self-indulgent characters of "La Dolce Vita", "Blow-Up" and lately "The Social Network" as idols instead of negative examples. At least this won't happen with "Wasted on the Young" because the characters are just not charming or interesting enough. But unfortunately the film does not have any of the intelligence, psychological depth and class of these films either.

"Wasted on the Young" could be seen as a desperate outcry of the young director but what remains of the film is a bravura exercise in style that is as shallow as its characters. 

(Filmfest München)


Teenage Wasteland: Alex Russell

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