Young Adam

"Bad"

Young Adam Review


"That was pointless," muttered a fellow critic after leaving a screening of Young Adam. Well, he's almost right. The only discernable purpose of the movie is to have Ewan McGregor's solemn, conscience-deprived drifter Joe screw every woman in sight. I was immediately reminded of interviews with James Spader around the time of David Cronenberg's remarkable Crash, where he described his proactive role in the casting process because he gets to have simulated sex with each of his female co-stars. If that seems a shallow way of viewing this adaptation of Alexander Trocchi's celebrated beat novel (which has earned comparisons with Albert Camus's The Stranger), well, this is a pretty shallow movie from the word go. The images feel flat, the dialogue literary, and the performances strong but non-captivating.

Joe works a barge between Glasgow and Edinburgh, working for grouchy middle-aged public servant Les (Peter Mullan) and his miserable wife Ella (Tilda Swinton). Shortly after they discover a dead body floating in the water, Joe and Ella begin a torrid affair right under Les's nose. Much like the Jack Nicholson-Jessica Lange version of The Postman Always Rings Twice, this film adaptation keeps all the fleshy sex scenes front-and-center while losing the moral confusion and dark side of cultural idealism that can't be captured onscreen via Ewan McGregor's endless brooding and cigarette smoking and arid shots of Joe against industrial backdrops.

McGregor gives a committed performance even while he's hopelessly miscast. This most virile of European actors somehow continually gets cast as writers -- penning the "Spectacular Spectacular" in Moulin Rouge and even getting cast as James Joyce(!) in Nora. He's not meant to be a man of letters any more than the less talented Chris O'Donnell was meant to play Ernest Hemingway. He's best cast as wild men with a lust for life, and might've been more appropriate for a balls-out, charismatic Henry Miller than for the dour, humorless Alexander Trocchi.

As the love triangle literally drifts along, Young Adam intercuts Joe's current malaise with a prior affair with the underwritten Cathie (Emily Mortimer). After meeting cute on the beach and sharing a cigarette, it's not long before they're screwing under railway cars and -- in what's meant to be the film's highlight of brutish eroticism -- roughly screwing while Joe sprays Cathie with ketchup, mustard, and other culinary delights. The near-rape aspect of the sequence is glossed over because it ends nearly as abruptly as it begins, and writer-director David Mackenzie is more enamored by an underwater shot minutes later as Joe tosses his beloved typewriter into the canal.

These frequent sexual encounters aren't given any moral weight beyond Mackenzie's sad-sack visuals, which is to say that their free-fall sex takes place in a cold, bleak world and is just as empty as anything else. It's unfortunate that most movies treat the sexual experience as something miserable (whereas The Last Tango in Paris understood that it can be at least a temporary refuge from the random cruelties of the world, and at best something sublime). Young Adam is so confused about its own message, it tacks on a courtroom trial in the final act where Joe must test his character and decide if he's learned right from wrong.

John Cougar Mellencamp (ugh... I know) once sang, "I fight authority / Authority always wins." At least he was fighting. Young Adam's protagonist might instead say, "I stand by while authority always wins." The inherent lack of drama in that statement, and lack of any shred of purposefulness, might make for a strong existential novel -- but as a movie, it's a nothing statement surrounded by voluptuous, passionless sex. Even with all that humping going on, Young Adam is a snooze.

The DVD includes two commentary tracks, one extended scene, and a reading of the original voiceover (by McGregor) which was eventually cut from the film.

Reviewed as part of the 2003 New York Film Festival.

Pass the mayo.



Young Adam

Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Friday 26th September 2003

Box Office USA: $0.7M

Box Office Worldwide: $2.5M

Budget: $6.4M

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Production compaines: Recorded Picture Company (RPC)

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 62%
Fresh: 74 Rotten: 45

IMDB: 6.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Joe Taylor, as Ella Gault, as Les Gault, as Cathie Dimly, as Jim Gault, as Gwen, as Daniel Gordon, as Bill, Pauline Turner as Connie, Alan Cooke as Bob M'bussi, as Sam, Ian Hanmore as Freight Supervisor, Mhairi Steenbock as Cathie's Flatmate, Anne Marie Timoney as Mrs. Gordon

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written,...

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

La La Land Movie Review

La La Land Movie Review

After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something...

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...

Silence Movie Review

Silence Movie Review

Faith is a topic Martin Scorsese can't quite shake, courting controversy with complex films like...

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A difficult movie to market, this isn't actually the BFG-style fantasy adventure it looks like....

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Word has it that a 4-year-old came up with the idea for this unapologetically silly...

Advertisement
Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in...

Paterson Movie Review

Paterson Movie Review

Unpredictable filmmaker Jim Jarmusch ricochets from his artful vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive into...

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

At 80 years old, British filmmaker Ken Loach won his second Cannes Film Festival with...

Why Him? Movie Review

Why Him? Movie Review

Writer-director John Hamburg continues to recycle the formula that made his first hit Meet the...

Passengers Movie Review

Passengers Movie Review

Anchored by the almost ridiculously engaging Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, this sci-fi movie travels...

Neruda Movie Review

Neruda Movie Review

Clever Chilean director Pablo Larrain (who also directed Natalie Portman's Jackie) takes on the Nobel-winning...

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

The Eagle Huntress Movie Review

Narrated by Daisy Ridley (The Force Awakens), this documentary is one of the most gripping...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.