By Kaylen Ralph
Over the course of one and a half years, directors Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet followed 16-year-olds Garrison and Kevin around their southern California hometown in Only the Young. They watched them skateboard, set off fireworks and jump off roofs for shits and giggles. They filmed them participating in the arduous process of cleaning dirty pools and abandoned backyards under the southern California sun. Mims, 23, and Tippet, 25, certainly wouldn’t have been able to capture the honesty and candidacy in the film had they been much older.
In the process of documenting the boys’ lives, Mims and Tippet were able to portray a story of maturation and growth that far surpasses the typical coming-of-age narrative. It is identifiable because everyone can recall what it’s like to be 16, but the odd environment in which Kevin and Garrison grow up makes this film a huge success as an atypical narrative.
Canyon Country in Santa Clarita, Calif. serves is much more than a scenic backdrop. Really, there’s nothing scenic about Canyon Country at all. Fade-in shots of the crystalline blue sky are more breathtaking than the residential expanse that lies below it. The barren Canyon Country is the remains of a residential planning project gone wrong, but it juxtaposes with the youth and vibrancy of the young men. The area might be void of much of anything to do, but there are plenty of empty neighborhoods and abandoned culs-de-sac for Garrison and Kevin to hang out in. Even if the film was simply shot after shot of Kevin and Garrison doing cool tricks on the skateboards, it would still be enjoyable. The boys are witty and awkward, and that combination is endearing.
But without Garrison’s girlfriend, Skye, Only the Young would most likely fail to show the evolution that both Garrison and Kevin undergo over the course of filming.
Skye is able to maturely articulate the intricacies of relationships that people far beyond her years still struggle with; she immediately establishes herself as true character in the story beyond “The Love Interest.” When her estranged mother reaches out to her via Facebook, Skye knows enough to assert that it will never be ok, “To do personal things in an impersonal way.” She and Garrison struggle through the awkwardness of being each other’s first love. Even when he starts dating someone else, Skye manages to remain Garrison’s friend despite her jealousy.
Kevin shows little interest in pursuing romantic relationships of his own. He is presented as the perennial “third wheel” in Garrison’s romantic endeavors, but the conversations he broaches with Garrison about his relationships show he has an astute understanding of how interactions with the other sex are supposed to work. When Skye gets “wasted” at a party and kisses Kevin post-breakup with Garrison, the three are able to get past the awkwardness fairly easily. They seem cognizant of the reality that if they don’t have each other, they don’t really have anyone.
The majority of the film is shot showing Kevin and Garrison sitting next to each other, facing the camera, and this style effectively mimics the way conversations happen in real life. Because of this technique, the audience can see both boys reacting to what the other is saying, even if they can’t gauge one another’s reactions themselves.
Kevin and Garrison’s steady, trusting gazes into the camera are a reminder of the filmmakers’ youth. Although there might only be two subjects present in a scene, there are obviously multiple youthful spirits present in the film.
Vox Rating: VVVV
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