19 September 2010

Review: "Wasted on the Young"

Wasted on the Young is an Australian film that premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Last year at TIFF I saw Visage, a film so unbearably pretentious that it prompted me to start my blog. The director and screenwriter, Ben Lucas, was present with most of the main cast after the screening. The film was loosely inspired by the events surrounding the 2006 Duke University lacrosse scandal when a student falsely accused three athletes of rape. Wasted on the Young shifts the focus from college to high school and lacrosse to swimming. The film is set at an elite high school and this makes the lack of adult involvement and pronounced drug use that much more disturbing. The film also offers a commentary on the perils of social networking. The central event in Wasted on the Young is the gang rape of a young girl prompting the entire school to attack her credibility using cell phones and Facebook. The film wonderfully juxtaposes the quiet singularity of swimming with the chaos of high school parties. These cinematography and the music of the film are mesmerizing but the film is grounded by the actors, all appearing in their first feature film. Wasted on the Young is often disturbing and thoroughly provocative and it is a film that requires an emotional response and will lead to hours of heated conversation.

Darren (Oliver Auckland) and Zack (Alex Russell) are step-brothers. Darren is a loner who spends most of his free time in front of his computer. Zack is popular and the star athlete of the school. Their only common interest is swimming. When Xandie (Adelaide Clemens) begins showing an interest in Darren it makes Zack and his friend Brook (T.J. Power) extremely jealous. Xandie goes to one of Zack's parties with hopes of spending time with Darren. After back and forth text messages the two are unable to find each other in the chaos and Xandie is cornered by Zack's girlfriend. Xandie is drugged and she is taken downstairs into a locked room. Darren, after finally seeing Xandie, tries to rescue her but he is pushed aside by Brook. The next morning Darren knows something is wrong. Xandie is missing and her cell phone was left in the basement. Adding fuel to his suspicions he finds that the security footage from the party has been deleted. At school everyone is discussing Xandie. Was she raped? Did she want it? Is she too scared to show her face at school? Much to the surprise of Zack and his friends she reappears at school a few days later. Darren is distraught and his hatred of Zack grows stronger. He and Xandie, with the help of two friends, concoct a wicked string of events that are violent and disturbing.

Wasted on the Young is reminiscent of the 2005 film Pretty Persuasion. It stars Evan Rachel Wood as a student who accuses a teacher of sexual harassment. Both films are provocative and often uncomfortable to watch. Wasted on the Young goes even further and creates a world that you hope is entirely fictional but part of you fears that it could easily mirror reality. Not even a week after seeing the film there was a report on CBC that videos of a teenage girl being drugged and gang raped had been posted on Facebook. It is frightening just how much social networking is impacting our society. We are often awed by the advances in technology but too often we turn a blind eye to the negative uses. I was impressed by Ben Lucas' direction. The rape was not seen on screen and he allows the viewer to imagine the graphic details. The film sucks you in with fantastic imagery and a pulsating soundtrack, but it is the young actors who control the film. After the screening Ben Lucas talked about melodrama and the complexities of the genre. I think he succeeded. Wasted on the Young toys with your emotions and forces you to have an opinion. It is a provocative film that will make you uncomfortable.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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