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Young Islands

[Rating: 3/5]

“Young Islands” is a small indie film about a young man, played by Steven Hamilton, who drifts through the last few days of his summer break.  He has nothing to do and he wants nothing do.   At times, this film is reminicent of Richard Linklater films like “Slackers” and “Waking Life;”  our protagonist seems content to observe other people, willing to let them be but unwilling to answer them with more than a smile and a nod.

There are things going on underneath the surface for our protagonist, but they mostly stay underneath the surface.   Director Kevin Chenault seems content to bury the leads almost beyond our ability to dig them back up.  His father is in the hospital–a heart attack, maybe? and was with another woman when it happened.  The next door neighbor is putting subtle moves on his mother, and playing surrogate father.  And Hamilton seems to be hesitantly questioning his own sexual identity.

That’s plenty of stuff for a young man to be dealing with, certainly.  In a lot of films, that would be sufficient fodder for a coming of age drama, full of emotionally fraught conversations and probably involving a road trip at some point.  But Hamilton never seems capable of that kind of dramatic action.   He makes a few attempts to address his issues;  an awkward moment with his best friend, a timid talk with his dad.  But the results aren’t encouraging, and it Hamilton isn’t the stubborn type.  He mostly just shrugs and ambles in a different direction.

Filmed in black and white, “Young Islands” is clearly a low-budget, DIY indie film, but Chenault handles himself well.   The film captures a slice of midwest, lower middle class small town life that I don’t see often on the screen;  bigger budget films tend to either mire their characters in extreme poverty or locate them in the upper middle class suburbs.  The characters in “Young Islands” don’t have much, in terms of materials or prospects, but they’re getting by.    Hamilton is excellent in the lead role; he never overplays a scene.  Indeed, Hamilton’s performance is so incredibly low-key that it tends to make the other actors around him look bad.  I’m going to guess that most of these are veteran community theater performers, and/or friends of the director, and sometimes they come across like they’re trying to make sure their lines areaudible–and their emotions readable–way back in the back of the theater.

The astute observation at the heart of “Young Islands” is that, while some people (especially people in movies) may engage their issues and questions about life, the universe and everything, most tend to just disengage, avoid the unpleasant parts of their life and personality, and wait for it all to blow over.  So goes Hamilton.  This is realist cinema; it may not be as dramatically exciting, but it’s certainly more honest.

“Young Islands” is old school independent cinema, meaning you’re not going to find it in the theaters or Netflix – at least, not yet.  But you can visit  to schedule your own free screening, or buy the DVD.  Support independent, DIY filmmakers!

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