SXSW FILM 2011
By Dirk Sonniksen | March 26, 2011
Director: Ben C. Lucas
Writer(s): Ben C. Lucas (screenplay)
Starring: Oliver Ackland, Adelaide Clemens, Alex Russell
When Wasted on the Young begins, high schooler Darren (Oliver Ackland) and his mother (we never see Mom) have been transplanted to the affluent neighborhood of a rather dazzling home in Australia, courtesy of her marriage to the homeowner, a guy who happens to be Zack’s (Alex Russell) dad (we never see Dad). Ok, so that’s out of the way. The boys’ parents aren’t home much; they’re the jet set type and don’t have time for rearing their young. As result, Zack has a lot of parties, parties that relegate Darren, an introvert by design, to the lonely confines of the security room, complete with an array of cameras that keep tabs on the entire house. As a result, Darren is a voyeur of sorts, watching the cool teens get drunk and do drugs.
Darren’s eyes fall upon Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens), and Xandrie’s gaze is focused on Darren. On one particular evening, with much alcohol and drugs being consumed, it seems as though Darren and Xandrie will “hook up,” but Zack, Darren’s stepbrother, has other plans. Along with his posse of followers, Zack commits to making Xandrie see the error of her ways when it comes to her affections toward Darren. What unfolds is a series of events that will forever change the relationship between Darren and Zack; although their relationship was not stellar to begin with, Zack pushes the limits, creating a war where the wiser will prevail.
Wasted on the Young is an interesting film in that it has had mixed reviews. Some have called it another teen movie, others claiming it lacked a well-written script. I reside in the other camp. While Wasted on the Young is not likely to win any awards or change the face of cinema, it did take a plot that has been exploited and revitalized it a bit. This film certainly takes from other films—a pet peeve of mine—but it does so in a way that is not a glaring rip off; at least that’s my opinion.
One of my favorite aspects of this film is the cinematography. Director Ben C. Lucas certainly knew what he wanted going into this project (you rarely get anything of quality from directors who wing it—and there are those that do). Blues and grays saturate this film, a look that adds to not only the subject matter but the overall setting as well (Wasted on the Young was shot in Perth, Western Australia). Other movies do come to mind when watching Wasted on the Young: Yes, Less Than Zero is there, and something deep in the recesses of this film remind me of Donnie Darko: not only the look, but Darren’s character as well.
Technology is heavy in this film, with the security cameras used as the basis for Darren’s viewpoint in many cases. As Darren is an outcast, he uses the security cameras to see into the lives of others. What is interesting is that Darren really isn’t shy at all, and possesses a kind of bravado that keeps his character moving. Text messaging is also a main feature, with the actual texts of the characters appearing on-screen, an interesting effect that normally wouldn’t grab me. Why, you say? Well, I’m not really a fan of social media (although I use it considerably, hypocrisy in action). But I must admit, Wasted on the Young uses technology in a way that I consider unique; the technology adds a kind of James Bond-esque flair to everything. Add to that the very bold, linear architecture of the house, and that effect is squared. I liked it.
Oliver Ackland is a great choice as Darren, again, playing the introvert but never going too deep into this reserved state; it was admirable to see him balance the two characteristics (introvert and badass) and do it well. As for Adelaide Clemens, she was another great choice. Clemens plays the part of a perky girl who seems popular to a degree, but is then ostracized by the school elite. Just as Ackland balanced his character, so did Clemens, with Xandrie being the happy schoolgirl with a dark side. Seeing her dark side only later in the film makes her character that much more enjoyable. Alex Russell plays Zack, the school stud. Russell has the major James Dean thing going on (see shot above of Zack in the foreground, cigarette dangling between his lips, with a parked convertible behind him), but it works. Not to sound like a broken record, but in a way, there are also two sides to Zack’s character as well; you really want to like this guy, but ultimately, it’s impossible.
Getting back to Ben C Lucas: For a first-time director, this is an excellent effort. Contrary to the naysayers, the script isn’t bad at all. It is a little jerky, but there’s enough there to hide any blatant problems. If the script is the issue, Lucas does a great job of salvaging the lines, and the actors do an admirable job of making this more than your typical teen flick about revenge. Wasted on the Young is certainly a film about revenge, but it’s much more: a lush little film that deserves some praise. That this film is an Australian effort almost guarantees it won’t get much push in the states, which is a shame. Wasted on the Young would appeal to American audiences; its take on the social lives of teens, technocratic vibe, and dark flavor would indeed be some welcome candy for this genre and its core audience.