Review: ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth,’ starring Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, Vanessa Burghardt and Evan Assante

January 24, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson in “Cha Cha Real Smooth” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

“Cha Cha Real Smooth”

Directed by Cooper Raiff

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Jersey and briefly in New Orleans, the comedy/drama “Cha Cha Real Smooth” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A recent college graduate struggles to find the right career path for himself as he falls in love with a divorced mother who is engaged to a lawyer. 

Culture Audience: “Cha Cha Real Smooth” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in post-college coming-of-age movies.

Leslie Mann, Cooper Raiff and Brad Garrett in “Cha Cha Real Smooth” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

Filmmaker/actor Cooper Raiff is in danger of typecasting himself in his movies as a dorky man-child, but “Cha Cha Real Smooth” has enough charm about awkward romances and life transitions to make up for some of the movie’s annoying self-awareness. The comedy/drama “Cha Cha Real Smooth” is the second feature film written and directed by Raiff, who has repeated certain themes and character scenarios in his two movies so far. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Raiff’s first feature film was the comedy/drama “Shithouse,” which was supposed to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, but all of SXSW was cancelled as an in-person event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 SWSW Film Festival still awarded jury prizes, and “Shithouse” received the festival’s top award: Best Narrative Feature. Later that year, “Shithouse” had a limited theatrical release and became available on home video, with very little fanfare, although the movie got mostly positive reviews.

In “Shithouse,” Raiff plays a homesick Texas “mama’s boy” named Alex Malmquist, who’s a freshman at an unnamed Los Angeles university, where he meets and falls in love with his dorm’s resident assistant named Maggie Hill (played by Dylan Gelula), who plays “hard to get” in their relationship. In “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” Raiff plays Andrew, a 22-year-old “mama’s boy” and recent Tulane University graduate, who moves back in with his unnamed mother (played by Leslie Mann) and stepfather Greg (played by Brad Garrett) in an unnamed city in New Jersey. Andrew falls in love with a divorced mother in her 30s named Domino (played by Dakota Johnson), who plays “hard to get” in their relationship. And in Domino’s case, she really is “hard to get”: She’s engaged to a workaholic lawyer named Joseph (played by Raúl Castillo), who travels a lot for his job.

Just like in “Shithouse,” the tone and pace of “Cha Cha Real Smooth” have meandering qualities that work well in many parts of the movie and not-so-well in other parts. And once again, Raiff plays a loner protagonist pining for a love interest who is less emotionally available than he is. In many ways, “Shithouse,” which is a very conversation-driven movie, seems like a college campus version of director Richard Linklater’s 2005’s romance movie “Before Sunrise,” starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” widens the scope of the protagonist’s world beyond a college campus and into the “real world” of a young adult living with parents while trying to find a full-time job.

Just like Linklater does in his movies about young people in America, Raiff has his young protagonists feeling a lot of yearning and discontent over how they’re living their lives, and the filmmaker blends this angst with party scenes and some goofy comedy. Unlike Linklater, Raiff is an actor who makes himself the star of the movies that he writes and directs. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” has more emotional depth and more character development than “Shithouse” does, with some hard-hitting real-life issues that are handled with sensitivity. However, there are moments in “Cha Cha Real Smooth” where Raiff’s ego is on display, because multiple times in the movie, different women tell the character he plays how adorable he is.

Andrew studied marketing at Tulane, and he hasn’t really figured out what career path he wants to take. His college sweetheart Maya (played by Amara Pedroso Saquel) has a Fulbright Scholarship to do graduate studies in Barcelona, Spain. An early scene in the movie shows Andrew and Maya at a party, shortly before graduating from Tulane. Maya asks Andrew what his post-graduation plans are, and he half-jokingly says that he wants to go to Barcelona. The expression on Maya’s face seems to say, “That’s not going to happen. And I don’t want it to happen.”

Andrew then says he’s thinking about finding a job at a non-profit. The movie then fast-forwards to Andrew, after he has graduated from Tulane. He’s working behind the counter at a fast-food place called Meat Stix, which sells meat on sticks, such as corndogs. Obviously, it’s a job that he didn’t expect to have after graduating from Tulane. Andrew’s graduation is never shown. It’s also never shown how Maya and Andrew decided to define their relationship before she moved to Barcelona.

But it should come as no surprise that Andrew thinks that he and Maya are more committed to each other than they really are. While he’s in Barcelona, Maya won’t answer his messages. And when Andrew checks Maya’s social media, he finds out that she’s been hanging out with a new guy, who’s probably her new boyfriend. Andrew soon meets another woman who preoccupies his thoughts.

One of the repeated themes of “Shithouse” and “Cha Cha Real Smooth” is that the protagonist has a tendency to fall for women who are older (even it’s by a few years), more experienced in dating, and/or more emotionally mature. The opening scene of “Cha Cha Real Smooth” foreshadows that Andrew has this preference, when he’s shown at 12 years old at a school dance. In this flashback scene, Andrew (played by Javien Mercado) has a crush on a woman in her 20s named Bella (played by Kelly O’Sullivan), one of the dance chaperones.

Andrew confesses to his mother that he’s in love with Bella. “I know she’s old, but I think she loves me too,” Andrew says. After the dance, Andrew asks Bella out on a date. She lets him down gently by telling him: “This is the most flattered I’ve ever felt, but I’m old.” A dejected Andrew pouts in the back seat of his parents’ car during their drive home, with his parents in the front seat, and his father (played by Chris Newman) driving. As the car is in motion, Andrew’s mother climbs in the back seat to comfort Andrew. Andrew’s father is never seen or mentioned in the movie again.

It’s open to interpretation why Andrew’s biological father is not discussed in the movie. He could be dead or divorced from Andrew’s mother. Either way, he’s definitely not in the family’s life anymore, and Andrew’s mother is now married to Greg, who’s an executive at a pharmaceutical company. In “Shithouse,” the father of the protagonist was dead, and the protagonist’s mother also didn’t have a name.

And just like in “Shithouse,” the protagonist of “Cha Cha Real Smooth” has a younger sibling who adores and looks up to him. In “Shithouse,” it’s a younger sister. In “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” it’s a younger brother. Andrew’s younger brother David (played by Evan Assante), who’s about 12 or 13 years old, is a good kid who’s insecure about how to date girls. It’s implied that David and Andrew have the same biological father, because they both call Greg by his first name, not “Dad.”

Andrew and Greg dislike each other, which is apparently how it’s been between them for years. They don’t get in violent fights, but they find ways to insult each other. Andrew is more blatant about it than Greg is. Greg isn’t impressed that Andrew doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life. Andrew thinks that Greg is too uptight and judgmental. Andrew’s mother tries to keep the peace between Andrew and Greg, but she has her own issues: She happens to be medically diagnosed as bipolar.

Many of David’s schoolmates are Jewish boys who are bar mitzvah age, and he gets invited to these bar mitzvahs. It’s why Andrew, David, their mother and Greg are at a bar mitzvah, where Andrew first sees Domino. It’s “attraction at first sight” for Andrew. Domino is with her daughter Lola (played by Vanessa Burghardt), who is about 14 or 15 years old and somewhere on the autism spectrum. When Andrew finds out that Domino and Lola are mother and daughter, and not sisters, he’s amazed because he thinks Domino looks too young to be the mother of a teenager.

Andrew thinks the party DJ isn’t doing a very good job of getting people on the dance floor, so he requests that the DJ play Lipps Inc.’s 1979 hit “Funky Town.” And the next thing you know, Andrew is leading a group dance to “Funky Town.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Expect to see several dance scenes showing close-ups of Andrew bopping up and down, like he’s on a pogo stick, sometimes in slow-motion. He’s not a very good dancer, but that’s the point, because Andrew is so unapologetically dorky that it’s supposed to be endearing. Too bad Raiff has to constantly point this out by having women in the movie repeatedly tell Andrew how adorable he is.

Andrew will be going to some more bar mitzvahs in this movie, once he finds out he has a knack for choosing the right dance songs, mingling with party guests, and making sure that people at a party have a good time. Andrew introduces himself to Domino and Lola at the bar mitzvah where he first sees them. Andrew and Domino then mildly flirt each other. Andrew also develops an immediate rapport with Lola, who is socially withdrawn and is treated like an outcast by the other kids at the party. Because of her autism, Lola has been held back a few grades, so she’s a few years older than her classmates.

At one point in the evening, Domino bets Andrew $300 that he can’t get Lola to dance on the dance floor. Of course, Andrew wins the bet. It’s the beginning of Domino’s attraction to Andrew. She doesn’t tell him right away that she’s engaged to be married, but eventually she does tell him on another night. The movie also makes a point of mentioning that Domino and Andrew are not Jewish, but they keep seeing each other at bar mitzvahs.

Meanwhile, after the party where Andrew and Domino have met, about five mothers surround Andrew and tell him how adorable he is and that they want him to be a DJ at their children’s upcoming bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. And that’s how Andrew starts his own party DJ business, which he calls Jig Conductor. Andrew enlists David to do a homemade promotional video for Jig Conductor, but the video doesn’t go as planned, in one of the movie’s contrived comedy scenes.

Greg is skeptical about Andrew being a party DJ as a job. When Greg asks Andrew how much Andrew will get paid for this type of work, Andrew sarcastically answers, “I think they said just under what an unhappy pharmaceutical exec makes.” Andrew makes other verbal digs at Greg in other scenes where Andrew essentially tells Greg that he thinks just because Greg is miserable, Greg doesn’t have to make Andrew miserable too.

Andrew sees Domino and Lola again at his first bar mitzvah job as a party DJ, but this event doesn’t go so well. First, Andrew gets fired before the party ends because he was rude to a rabbi who was at the party, and Andrew got involved in a fight with a boy who was bullying Lola. Second, something happens to Domino at the party which is a harrowing experience for her. Andrew finds out and comes to her rescue, which further deepens their growing bond.

Domino then hires Andrew to be a babysitter for Lola. The movie has several sweet-natured scenes of Andrew and Lola becoming friends. Lola is intelligent, kind and very socially awkward. Before Andrew comes into her life, her only friend was her beloved pet hamster Jerry. Lola is very honest, and Andrew likes her candor. Andrew also feels protective of Lola because he knows that she gets bullied by her schoolmates.

Domino and Andrew inevitably become closer too. When Andrew and Domino kiss for the first time, Domino is the one who makes the first move. But what about Joseph? He’s in Chicago a lot because of a client’s lawsuit. Andrew eventually meets Joseph, who is polite but somewhat emotionally closed-off and not very talkative. Joseph remains a mystery throughout the entire movie, with nothing really revealed about him except that he’s a very busy lawyer.

The rest of the movie is about Andrew falling in love with Domino, who sends mixed signals about how far she wants the relationship to go with him. At one point, Domino tells Andrew, “I feel very comfortable with you. I don’t know why.” Later in the movie, Domino says to Andrew: “You know what you look like now? You look like the sweetest person ever.”

However, there are some red flags that Andrew wants to ignore, such as Domino telling him that she would like to move to Chicago to start a new life and to possibly go to school to get her college degree. Domino says that Joseph would rather stay in New Jersey. (“Cha Cha Real Smooth” was actually filmed in Pennsylvania.) And there’s an age difference and lifestyle difference between Andrew and Domino that they don’t really discuss until much later in the movie.

Andrew takes the way that Domino gets emotionally close to him as a sign that Domino and Joseph are having problems in their relationship. Andrew doesn’t seem too concerned with finding out how long Domino and Joseph have been together, or when they plan to get married. Andrew doesn’t ask these questions, but Domino is also somewhat guarded about certain things in her life. She eventually tells Andrew that she has abandonment issues because her ex-husband (Lola’s father) left her and Lola. Domino also reveals that she’s been depressed ever since she was a child.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” gets its title from a line in DJ Casper’s 2000 hit “Cha Cha Slide,” a novelty tune that’s played in one of the movie’s bar mitzvah scenes. The movie has a few subplots, such as Andrew giving David romance advice because David has a crush on a classmate named Margaret (played by Brooklyn Ramirez), who might have a romantic interest in David too. Andrew also casually dates a former high school schoolmate named Macy (played by Odeya Rush), who was his crush in high school.

Maya isn’t too far from his mind, because Andrew confides in his mother that he’s saving his money to eventually go to Barcelona. Andrew claims his Barcelona trip has nothing to do with Maya, who’s been ignoring him, but Andrew’s mother looks like she doesn’t believe him. Andrew also applies for a job at a non-profit group called Hope Loves a Friend, which helps underprivileged and disabled kids.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” has characters with disabilities or mental illnesses, which are issues that weren’t in “Shithouse.” These issues are handled in “Cha Cha Real Smooth” with mixed results. Lola isn’t depicted as an offensive stereotype of autism, but as a fully developed human being with clear thoughts and feelings. The scenes with Lola and Andrew are among the best in the movie.

However, the bipolar condition of Andrew’s mother seems like a plot device that’s never realistically shown or explored in a meaningful way. It’s mentioned a few times in the movie that Andrew’s mother has had recent “manic” episodes in public, but these manic episodes and her depression are never shown. Instead, her entire personality in the movie is as an even-tempered, supportive mother.

It’s as Raiff just wanted to tack on a “mental illness” description for the mother to make it seem like this movie is deeper than it really is. At Andrew’s job interview with Hope Loves a Friend, Andrew mentions that his mother is bipolar as a way to prove that he’s qualified for the job. Then, he blurts out a lie about another member of his family having a mental disability, then he promptly admits that it’s a lie. It’s a moment when the movie namechecks a disability for a cheap laugh, especially when viewers find out if Andrew got the job or not.

Domino is another person in Andrew’s life who’s had a long history of depression. And that part of her life and personality are shown in fleeting moments. Mostly, Domino seems like someone who doesn’t really think she’ll find true happiness, but she wants stability, which she thinks she can get in her relationship with Joseph. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” doesn’t seem to want to show anything realistic when it comes to the hardest things people with depression or bipolar disorder have to deal with in their everyday lives.

Andrew can be compassionate, but he can be self-absorbed in many ways. For example, when things in Andrew and Domino’s relationship aren’t going the way that Andrew hoped they would, he takes his anger and frustration out on his brother David. When David asks Andrew for some love-life advice, Andrew snaps at David and verbally insults him in a very mean-spirited way. It’s supposed to show how “human” Andrew is and that this “nice guy” isn’t so perfect.

The dialogue in this movie can sometimes be clunky, but there are also scenes where the dialogue is very realistic. Raiff, Burghardt and Assante stand out as giving believable performances. Johnson has played many coquettish types before, Mann has played many nurturing mothers before, and Garrett has played many grumpy characters before, so all three of these cast members don’t do much that’s new in this movie. It remains to be seen if Raiff is going to follow the Woody Allen path of filmmaking, by playing a version of himself in the movies where he’s the director, writer and protagonist star. Raiff seems capable of playing more than this type of neurotic lovelorn character, so it will be interesting to see if he can show more acting range in his future movies.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” has some unanswered questions that aren’t really plot holes, but they indicate that the screenplay needed improving. Viewers might wonder: “What happened to Andrew’s father?” “If Lola is such an outcast at her school, why does she keep getting invited to these bar mitzvahs?” (Lola and Domino go to three of them during the course of the movie.) “How have Andrew and David been affected by their mother’s bipolar condition?” By throwing in all of the issues and not adequately addressing them all, “Cha Cha Real Smooth” looks like it bit off more than it could chew. There was a simple clarity about “Shithouse” that’s missing in “Cha Cha Real Smooth.”

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” is a series of scenes and vignettes that have just enough in each scene to resonate with viewers. Andrew is like a lot of recent college graduates who have to move back in with parents and who don’t have their entire lives figured out yet. He’s a flawed “nice guy” who likes to make people feel good about themselves, but he can also say mean and stupid things when he’s drunk. Raiff’s greatest strength as a filmmaker is showing these human frailties of people doing the best that they can to accept themselves in a world where they can get rejected and things don’t always go as planned.

UPDATE: Apple Studios will release “Cha Cha Real Smooth” in select U.S. cinemas and on Apple TV+ on June 17, 2022.

Review: ‘Here Are the Young Men,’ starring Dean-Charles Chapman, Finn Cole, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Travis Fimmel

June 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dean-Charles Chapman, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Finn Cole in “Here Are the Young Men” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Here Are the Young Men”

Directed by Eoin Macken

Culture Representation: Taking place in Dublin from June to August 2003, the dramatic film “Here Are the Young Men” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Three teenage hoodlum friends spend their first summer out of high school by making mischief and partying, but they are haunted by witnessing a car accident that killed a young girl, and their friendship will be tested by other issues.

Culture Audience: “Here Are the Young Men” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a coming-of-age film about rebellious youth, but the movie is ultimately a shallow exercise in glorifying criminal activities.

Finn Cole, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Dean-Charles Chapman and Anya Taylor-Joy in “Here Are the Young Men” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

Rebellious teens have been the subjects of countless movies, so audiences need to have a reason to care when yet another one of these stories is made into a movie. Unfortunately, “Here Are the Young Men” should have been titled “Here Are the Young Men Being Glorified for Getting Away With Serious Crimes.” The movie tries to be artsy with some psychedelic-like hallucinations throughout the film, and the cast members do the best that they can with the weak material that they’ve been given. But it’s not enough to save this very hollow film that tries to justify atrocious and violent crimes with the excuse that angry young men just need to let off some steam.

“Here Are the Young Men” was written and directed by Eoin Macken, who adapted the movie from Rob Doyle’s 2014 novel of the same name. And this movie, which attempts to be a gritty portrayal of working-class life in Dublin in 2003, actually comes across as a fantasy of what it would be like to be a teenage male hoodlum who gets away with everything. The movie gives very little thought to the victims who have been hurt by the increasingly despicable actions of one of the main characters. Instead, the movie puts all the sympathy on the trio of hooligans who are the cause of all the mayhem in the story.

The movie takes place from June to August 2003, the first summer after pals Matthew Connolly (played by Dean-Charles Chapman), Joseph Kearney (played by Finn Cole) and Rez (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) have left high school. Matthew and Rez have graduated, while Joseph (the most problematic one in the trio) was expelled. Viewers can assume these alcohol-guzzling pub-hoppers are all 18 years old, the minimum legal age to drink alcohol in Ireland. It’s one of the few legal things that these hoodlums do when they party.

The movie’s opening scene takes place at a funeral attended by Matthew. He says in a voiceover: “They say that the summer you finish school is the best time of your life because it’s your final summer of freedom and you become men. It’s important. I just didn’t realize how important it would be. This is a real story … I’m sorry for some of the choices we made.”

The funeral is shown again at the end of the film. But in between, the majority of the story is a flashback, told from Matthew’s perspective, of what happened during that fateful summer. Opening with the funeral scene was artistically a big mistake, because viewers will immediately know that a major character is going to die in this story. And it’s not going to be Matthew.

And so, there’s no real suspense or surprise when that death happens, because the tension builds to such a predictable point that it’s fairly easy to guess who’s going to die. The only real question is how will that person die? The cause of death is also easily predicted during a pivotal moment in the last third of the film.

The flashback begins with Matthew in a meeting with his school headmaster Mr. Landerton (played by Ralph Ineson), who is conducting an exit interview, as is the school’s custom with all graduating students. Matthew seems bored and reluctant to tell Mr. Landerton what Matthew’s plans are after high school, probably because Matthew doesn’t have any plans.

Matthew says, “If it makes you happy for your report, just write that I’ve improved as an individual, grown into a respectable young scholar—and it’s all because of you.” Mr. Landerton shakes Matthew hand and says that he knows that things have been difficult for Matthew. Mr. Landerton adds, “Be careful with your choices.”

What has been difficult for Matthew? It’s not fully explained in the movie, but Matthew’s father is no longer in the home. Based on the way that this absentee father is not discussed in Matthew’s household, it’s implied that his father isn’t dead but has abandoned the family. Matthew is an only child and he lives with mother Lynn Connolly (played by Susan Lynch), who seems to have a drinking problem because in the few times she’s seen, she’s holding an alcoholic drink and/or appears to be drunk.

Joseph also lives in a single-parent household, but with his father Mark Kearney (played by Conleth Hill), who pays more attention to what’s on television than he pays attention to Joseph. The movie doesn’t explain what happened to Joseph’s mother. Joseph has an older brother named Dwayne Kearney (played by Chris Newman), who lives in another household and appears in one of Joseph’s many hallucinations. Joseph is the angriest and most mentally disturbed of the three pals, as it becomes very clear later on in the story.

Rez is the friend who is the most mysterious. In other words, he’s the most underwritten of the three friends. He doesn’t even have a last name in the movie. Nothing is shown of Rez’s home life. All viewers know about Rez is that he likes to dress all in black, he does a lot of drugs, and he makes money by selling drugs. Rez is also a lot more sensitive than he’s willing to show most people. One of the few people he opens up to is another teenager named Julie (played by Lola Petticrew), who has a sexual relationship with Rez that can best be described as “friends with benefits.”

The graduation ceremony at the school is never shown. However, it isn’t long after Matthew and Rez get their “freedom” that Matthew, Rez and Joseph decide to go back to their school to vandalize it during the daytime when the school is on a summer break. They start by going to a local church, popping some pills and mocking the communion ritual, with Rez saying “Body of Christ,” before he swallows a pill.

Then, they head to the school and spraypaint graffiti on an instruction board. The graffiti they put on the board shows a penis and a stick figure with the words, “Luke, I am your father, but you are my god.” And because Joseph is the group’s biggest troublemaker, he throws a desk through a closed window, thereby shattering the window with no regard that someone could be hit by the desk or the broken glass on the street below. (Fortunately, no one gets injured.)

The mayhem continues when they go to the school’s parking garage. Joseph sees Mr. Landerton’s car and starts destroying it with a crowbar. During this vandalism, he has a rage-filled rant, as if he’s taking out all of his anger on Mr. Landerton, who expelled him from the school. After a while, Rez joins in on the destruction too.

Matthew shows some restraint and seems reluctant to participate in this senseless act of violence. Just then, Mr. Landerton shows up with some police officers. And this is where the movie starts to go downhill with a very unrealistic scene. Instead of the cops immediately arresting these young punks, Mr. Landerton just stands there and tries to reason with these vandals.

First, the headmaster asks Matthew if he really wants to be a part of this criminal activity. In defiance, Matthew chooses to side with his pals, so he bashes one of the car’s outside mirrors. Matthew, Joseph and Rez then climb out a nearby window and run away, with two or three cops in pursuit.

The chase continues through some streets and an alley, but the cops are out of shape and can’t keep with these teenagers. The last cop to keep the chase going eventually gives up in frustration. But here’s the thing that’s so ridiculous about this movie: Matthew, Joseph and Rez don’t face any consequences.

They are never arrested for the vandalism, even though Mr. Landerton knows where they live and could easily send the cops to the teens’ homes to arrest them. But that never happens. Viewers have to assume that Mr. Landerton might have decided not to press charges, but what kind of school headmaster would let anyone get away with all that damage on the school property when the perpetrators were caught in the act?

It’s just one of many plot holes of stupidity that plague this movie, which is really just a showcase to make it look like just because someone is a working-class teen, it’s enough to feel angst and justify committing crimes. We won’t even get into the racial inequalities of what kinds of punishments these teens would experience if they weren’t white. It’s a privileged blind spot that this movie has because its only concern is making it look like these lazy cretins are just going through a rebellious rite of passage.

The reality is that these teens are not “oppressed” in any way and have no good reason for committing any crimes. They might not come from rich families, but they’re not homeless and not scrounging for food. They don’t experience racism, sexism or other forms of discrimination. They have other people (their parents) paying their bills and providing them with a place to live. Rez’s home life isn’t shown, but it’s implied that he doesn’t have to worry about paying rent.

And apparently, even their school headmaster is willing to look the other way and not hold them accountable for their crimes. There’s no logical reason for why this headmaster would be an enabler, when his job would be at stake for letting these destructive teens get away with the vandalism they committed on school property. These are not wealthy kids who can buy their way out of trouble, but there’s an air of bratty entitlement that this movie has that’s just so annoying.

Later in the movie, Matthew gets a job at an auto tire shop. It’s one of the few mature and responsible things that he does in the story. But then, there’s a scene where Matthew deliberately sets the shop on fire. And yet, the movie never shows him facing any consequences and never mentions what happened as a result of the fire. In fact, the rest of the movie acts like the fire never even happened. It’s all just sloppy screenwriting.

One thing that the movie constantly brings up is how a certain car accident affected these three troublemaking friends. Shortly after they get away with the vandalism at their school, Matthew, Joseph and Rez are on a busy commercial street when they witness a fatal car accident. The driver hit and killed a girl who was about 7 or 8 years because she suddenly ran out on the street. The girl’s mother rushed to her side and wailed for help.

On the surface, the three buddies all try to get on with their lives and continue their partying and mischief making. But seeing someone die right before their eyes is something that has a psychological effect on them. Matthew tries to “clean up” his life a little bit by getting a job at the tire shop. (It’s all for nothing though, because Matthew ends up setting the shop on fire.) Rez falls into a deep depression. Joseph develops a macabre obsession to see someone else die in front of him.

Joseph drops many hints that after seeing someone die, he now has a desire to become a murderer. When he tries to talk about it with his friends, they give him strange looks and he says he’s just joking. Joseph’s increasingly twisted mindset is manifested in a series of hallucinations centered on a TV talk show that Joseph’s father Mark likes to watch.

The program is called “Big Show,” and it’s hosted by a black-haired unnamed man (played by Travis Fimmel) who is styled to look like a menacing satanic figure, but without devil horns. His has a pointy beard and long sideburns and a constant sinister smirk. In the hallucinations about “Big Show,” this TV host brings on certain guests to taunt them, humiliate them and test their endurance.

At various points in the movie, Joseph and Matthew imagine themselves as guests on “Big Show.” Much of the program revolves around the TV presenter talking about masculinity and what it means to be a real man. In one “episode,” the presenter has a woman called Angel Dust (played by Noomi Rapace, in a cameo) on stage and ends up sexually groping her without consent, as the all-male audience cheers.

Sometimes, in Joseph’s “Big Show” hallucinations, his brother Dwayne is in the audience too. It’s supposed to represent Joseph’s conscious or subconscious desire to get his brother Dwayne’s approval. The more violent crimes that Joseph commits, the more he seems to get approval from the “Big Show” host, until it reaches the point where Joseph struts around as if he’s the star of the show.

Matthew’s “Big Show” hallucinations show him as a more hesitant guest, since in real life, he’s the only one out of the three friends who seems to be a little uncomfortable with violent crimes, and he tries to make an honest living. Joseph is never seen doing any work (legal or illegal) in this story, but early on in the movie he mentions that he wants to be a video game developer. Joseph says he has an idea for an Irish Republican Army video game that he wants to call “The Provos.”

Someone who occasionally hangs out with these troublemakers is a fellow teen named Jen (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who was in the same graduating class as Matthew and Rez. Jen is smart and level-headed. Matthew has a big crush on her, and the feeling might be mutual. They have typical flirty banter where they try to pretend that they aren’t as attracted to each other as they really are.

Jen wants to leave Dublin as soon as she can. Her dream is to live in the United States and become an entertainer or a fashion designer. In the meantime, she sings at a local nightclub. (In one of these nightclub scenes, she performs a cover version of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control.”) Taylor-Joy is a good singer, but the scenes of her on stage don’t add much to the story, except to show Matthew ogling Jen. The movie’s soundtrack, which has several songs by Magnets & Ghosts, is mostly alternative rock and some electronica.

Joseph also wants to go to America, and he gets a chance to take a trip to visit the U.S. at one point in the movie. (“Here Are the Young Men” director Macken has a quick cameo as an unnamed homeless man who has an unfortunate encounter with Joseph.) Joseph is never actually seen in America, but he’s made videos of his trip. Some of those videos are shown in the movie.

When Joseph comes back to Dublin, he reveals certain things about himself that show he’s gone beyond vandalism to committing crimes that are even more violent and disturbing. Matthew, Rez and Jen are all affected by Joseph’s increasingly unhinged, out-of-control behavior. And in a predictable teen movie like this one, that means it’s all going to culiminate with some heavy melodrama.

“Here Are the Young Men” takes a very disappointing approach of having mayhem for mayhem’s sake. The hallucinatory “Big Show” scenes aren’t very clever. And the movie’s best and most authentic-looking scene isn’t even about the boys’ friendship but it’s a scene where Matthew and Jen have a big argument over something that happened at a party.

It’s a scene that affects Matthew and Jen’s relationship and brings up very realistic issues about how perceptions are affected by intoxication from alcohol and drugs, which can impair the ability to give consent in sexual situations. The scene also candidly addresses gender roles and expectations in dating relationships. And it’s where Matthew gets some awareness of how the toxic masculinity that he participates in and enables can hit closer to home than he expected.

Unfortunately, this awareness comes so late in the story that it’s questionable how much Matthew might have really learned to become a better person when he makes a certain decision in reaction to something that upset him. Ironically, for a movie called “Here Are the Young Men,” the character of Jen is the most fascinating and has the most interesting things to say. However, she is written as a secondary character.

The scenes with Jen and Matthew have a familiar “will they or won’t they get together” arc that’s often seen in teen dramas. However, Taylor-Joy (who’s an award-winning actress on the rise) and Chapman (who was quite memorable in his role as a young British soldier in the World War I movie “1917”) are good-enough in their roles to bring believable emotions to characters that wouldn’t be as watchable if portrayed by less-talented actors. Jen is about the same age as Matthew, Rez and Joseph, but she’s much more emotionally mature than they are.

The characters of Joseph and Rez both struggle with personal demons more than Matthew does. Joseph’s anger is explosive and mostly directed at other people, while Rez tends to be more introverted and self-destructive. Cole and Ferdia-Peelo give convincing but not particularly outstanding performances of how Joseph and Rez mentally unravel in their own ways. All the parental/authority figures are essentially just background characters who don’t have much influence in what these teens say or do.

The main problem with “Here Are the Young Men” isn’t the cast members’ performances but in the way that writer/director Macken seems more concerned with showing how much worse the criminal chaos can get for these teen delinquents, rather than any true character development. There’s a tone throughout the movie that’s seems to say, “You thought what so-and-so did was bad, just wait until you see what this person does next.” After a while, it feels very hollow and lacking in suspense, since apparently the movie is intent on making it look like Dublin law enforcement is incompetent and that these three law-breaking jerks are untouchable.

This movie starts to look very unrealistic when these known hoodlums, who commit their crimes out in the open, never seem to be at any real risk of beng arrested. The movie becomes a repetitive series of crimes and drug-induced hallucinations that ultimately serve no purpose except to show these characters getting away with these crimes. The movie didn’t need to have any moralistic preaching to be improved. By the end of the film, viewers just won’t care about these self-absorbed troublemakers who are so bored with their lives that they create damaging problems for themselves and other people.

Well Go USA released “Here Are the Young Men” on digital and VOD on April 27, 2021.

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