Director: Elizabeth Tims and Jason Tippet
Few things are more universal than the plight of the teenager. Whether it’s in an upper-class gated community, a packed city block or a small desert town in Southern California, the latter the setting of Elizabeth Tims and Jason Tippet‘s documentary Only The Young, children become young adults and struggle mightily with what that means.
Garrison and Kevin, two of the central subjects in this documentary, are good friends. They have been since they were young. The two skateboard and have aspirations of careers in the sport, especially Kevin. They are both friends with Skye, a local girl and the final piece of the film’s main arc. Garrison is dating Skye at the opening of the doc, but it doesn’t last long. Tims and Tippet ask him why he broke up with Skye. Like so many teenagers, there is no good reason, if any reason at all.
And so the film moves with these growing children, as they stumble and fall on their skate boards and in life. Paced against beautiful, patient shots of Southern California, these small stories are treated with care. And while the filmmakers have clearly made their young subjects comfortable, there are more than a few moments that feel a bit forced. But then so much of adolescence is forced upon as it is, so Tims and Tippet make the most of their building narrative.
Not unlike their subjects’ attitudes and opinions, the movie is all over the place. A stint focused on Garrison and his ever-changing relationship status, not to mention ever-changing hair-do, bumps into a a local adult who runs a skateboard company with ties to religion and serves as a sort-of mentor to Kevin and Garrison. Later on, religion returns when Garrison begins dating a local girl who has strayed from the path of faith. Like so many things here, this is not pursued in any real way. These filmmakers are less concerned with the stories their subjects are living than the subjects themselves.
When these kids let their emotions show through, it is heart-wrenching. Consider a scene in which Skye tries to explain to Garrison the pain that comes with being forced out of the house she grew up in with her grandfather, who took her in after she was abandoned by her parents. Or another in which Garrison and Skye confront Kevin about his cutting habits. It’s these punctuated moments of honesty that breathe life and meaning into a documentary that could have easily felt like a lo-fi version of more high-profile docs like American Teen or Bully.
That none of these kids say anything too original or wholly insightful is but a small criticism. Their problems are real problems, and their thoughts are meant to count here in the lens our filmmakers choose to tell their story.
Only the Young is now in limited release.
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