The kids in Only the Young are all right and so is this likable movie, a sketchbook of a documentary filled with adolescent bodies groping, lurching and skateboarding toward burgeoning adulthood. The movie is the feature directing debut of Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims, who were in their 20s when they started shooting. The two had recently graduated from the California Institute of the Arts, in Southern California, when a pair of teenagers, Garrison Saenz and Kevin Conway, skateboarded up to them and gave the budding filmmakers a subject.
By MANOHLA DARGIS
The New York Times
That meeting isnt in the movie, which begins abruptly, with none of the usual documentary preliminary markers. A boy you come to know as Garrison, who was 17 when shooting began, is lying on a floor next to a girl, Skye Elmore, who was 15. The two are looking straight up into the camera thats pointed down at them like a god or hovering parent. Theyre talking about this or that, nothing special. What is memorable is the stillness of the image and how harmoniously their bodies fit inside the frame. Tippet shot the movie and has a terrific eye and a steady hand, and he favors balanced compositions that offset the suboptimal visual quality of the digital imagery.
In time, names, places and details slip out, almost reluctantly, mostly though scraps of on-screen text. Saenz and Conway live in or around Santa Clarita, a valley city of about 200,000 some 20 miles from the San Andreas Fault and 30 miles from Los Angeles. They go to school, though it remains out of view, as do most of their friends and family. They like to skateboard, including off the roof of an abandoned home that they have turned into a playhouse. Sometimes, Elmore stops by for a visit. Once, while the three are hanging out, Saenz starts talking about the self-inflicted cuts on Conways arm. Conway teases Saenz and says its no big deal.
And, really, not much seems like a big deal in this 70-minute movie that slides into idle around the 50-minute mark. With their varying hair colors and styles, their chatter about skateboards and God, Saenz, Conway and Elmore make for pleasant if not especially scintillating company. Unsurprisingly, they enjoy talking about themselves, and they can be charming and touching. But the smallness of that talk and the narrowness of their horizons start to make the movie feel like a very small box instead of a window onto a world. Sometimes that world comes into view a dad in prison, a deadbeat mom, a lost home. But these mostly float by scenically and they dont stick.
Tippet and Mims let the teenagers just do their thing, though the filmmakers restricted, at times almost parodic, image of Santa Clarita here little more than desert, abandoned buildings and transmission towers is its own blunt commentary. Otherwise there is no lecturing, no overt social agenda, no hectoring or softly guiding voice-over and talking-head specialists. There are no familiar documentary lessons. There are just kids being kids, living their lives and riding their boards seemingly moment to moment. Its kind of like watching a digital diary. And if Tippet and Mims werent such accomplished visual stylists, you might even think that the teenagers shot the documentary themselves, which explains both its appeal and its limitations.
(At the Screenland Crossroads.)