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Kevin Chenault's "Young Islands"


An ace exploration of ordinary people and their extraordinary problems if I ever saw one.

Young Islands (2011)
Written & Directed by Kevin Chenault
[Blackstrap Pictures]

Cory (newcomer Steven Hamilton), a bed-wetting teen malcontent, is the centerpiece of this curious little movie that came out of Northern Indiana. As the heart of Young Islands, Cory is the perfect mumblecore misfit: a lanky, pasty Caucasian boy with the greasy bangs of every emo kid you've ever met. His dough eyes and nervous grin are perfect emblems of the languid youth first-time director Kevin Chenault endeavors (and, mostly, succeeds) in conveying in his debut film.

With everyone and their red-headed stepbrother trying to copycat the crazy stylistics of Neveline/Taylor and the ribald humor of Judd Apatow's bromances, it's nice to see a first-time director aspiring to something more attainable on a micro-budget and austere in its purposes. Young Islands is a celebration of life's sundry detours and awkward situations, a near-plotless movie about a small-town kid who is struggling with his uncomfortable family life and his even more uncomfortable sexual urges.

Young Islands- with its seemingly aimless narrative, its colorful parking lot diversions and its minimalist package- recalls the glory days of Jarmusch and Linklater, two 90's indie heavyweights who haven't been mimicked in many a moon and never so effectively as in this here flick. Chenault's film is one of those gloriously punk rock pictures that turns a non-judgmental eye on a misanthropic wanderer who huffs household chemicals from a sock and meanders through his summer vacation, but it is not your typical coming-of-age movie, if for no other reason than our protagonist never really comes of age so much as comes...and then goes and does a bunch of other stuff.

Whereas with most low-budget films the black and white look works against it, here it is part of Young Islands' charm. The film has the rare atmosphere of an actual go-nowhere day without feeling boring for so much as a second. At one point Cory fights off ennui by hanging around his friend's house when no one is home and going through their personal possessions, something I think every teenager should experience at least once, if they haven't already. It's always a revelation to see what other people keep in their underwear drawers.

Kenny, Cory's best friend and would-be love interest, has the cool mom every kid wanted while growing up. Kenny's mom is the chick who tags the refrigerator like a graffiti artist and makes water balloons out of Magnum condoms. What elevates these sorts of sight gags—besides the impressively naturalistic performances of the non-actors involved—is how well drawn each character in them is. This is due, in no small part, to a script with organic pace and dialogue, something usually lost on neophyte filmmakers.

This film may not be perfect, and that might be why it's so damn enjoyable. It would make for an excellent Double Feature alongside Adam Wingard's equally homey Pop Skull. An ace exploration of ordinary people and their extraordinary problems if I ever saw one.

Young Islands is available from Gulcher Records, the folks who donated most of the soundtrack to Chenault. Get your copy while supplies last. http://youngislands.blackstrappictures.com/ 

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