Irish director Eoin Macken’s Here Are the Young Men follows a small group of foul-mouthed friends as they navigate the threshold between high school graduation and the frenzied debauchery of their last summer before officially “growing up.” After engaging in one last act of academic vandalism, Matthew (Dean-Charles Chapman), Kearney (Finn Cole) and Rez (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) have every intention of engaging in a slew of appropriately hedonistic festivities—that is, until they witness a fatal accident that leaves the trio irrevocably shaken.
Based on Irish writer Rob Doyle’s 2014 novel of the same name, Here Are the Young Men is set in 2003, notable as being during Ireland’s prosperous “Celtic Tiger” economic boom. Yet the film is clear to highlight that despite this climate of relative financial security, the country’s youth remain as disillusioned as ever. Matthew works in a family-owned tire shop while aching over redhead crush Jen (Anya Taylor-Joy); Kearney sets his sights on the U.S., where he plans to be knee-deep in pussy and patriotism; Rez struggles with mental health issues with little room to ruminate about the future. On the plus side, the group’s various troubles are not compounded by poverty—an unyielding cash flow means that they can all afford to drink, smoke and snort the pain away.
While it’s natural for any film adaptation to omit certain details present in the original novel (in this case, a fourth friend named Cocker), the true feeling of absence in Here Are the Young Men stems from its inability to properly translate the psychologically meta aspects of the text. A fictional, hyper-saturated television program called Big Show! that takes place entirely in Kearney’s subconscious is utilized as a narrative device in order to explore the depravity of his descent into American cultural ideals. However, these scenes read as more jarringly melodramatic in the film than as effective at peeling back the cognitive layers of masculine ideation and performance.
When it comes to the art of adaptation and interpretation, the film’s actors are fairly gifted at conveying the emotional intricacies that come with facing impending adulthood—a fact that comes as no surprise considering the young yet seasoned cast. The clunky television scenes notwithstanding, Cole’s manic transformation from schoolyard delinquent to social deviant is brutally captivating. Taylor-Joy’s character occupies an inverse role (sensible firecracker) while also carefully navigating an emotionally fraught discussion about sexual assault, an exchange which the actress saves from teetering towards shlocky shock value. While Walsh-Peelo is the only Irish actor featured among the principal cast members, his character remains criminally under-explored; however, if the same awkward vehicle would have been adopted to analyze his inner psychological workings as Kearney’s, this decision might have ultimately been for the best.
Though the premise is gripping and the acting overwhelmingly solid, Here Are the Young Men falls short when it comes to communicating the raw emotional essence of preemptively coping for a future in decline. The vague and unsettling feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop is certainly a familiar one for young people nearly 20 years after the events detailed in the film, yet these parallels never quite match up. When considering the existing canon surrounding cinematic adaptations of complicated texts which detail the bleak reality of addiction, intimacy and death that affect diverse swaths of precocious individuals in times of transition (ahem, Trainspotting), Here Are the Young Men doesn’t actually reveal anything novel about the anxieties of adolescence in decline.
Director: Eoin Macken
Writers: Eoin Macken, Rob Doyle (novel)
Stars: Dean-Charles Chapman, Finn Cole, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Travis Fimmel
Release Date: April 27, 2021 (Well Go USA)
Natalia Keogan is a Queens-based writer who covers film, music and culture, with particular interest in the horror genre and depictions of sexuality and gender. You can read her work in Narratively, Filmmaker Magazine and Paste, and find her on Twitter.