It’s been a couple thousand years since the Apostle Paul wrote about becoming a man.

In his letter to the Corinthians, he made it sound as if the transition to manhood were instant. For him, perhaps, “putting away childish things” was as simple as changing his name. But in the age of iPads, Facebook and hook-up “dating” culture, young people seem to find themselves playing around between  childhood and adulthood for quite some time, for better or worse.

Only the Young, a documentary playing at St. Anthony Main this coming week, explores this betweenness in the lives of a few middle class, small-town California kids as they skateboard in recession-scarred ruins while learning about their friends, themselves and what challenges lie beyond high school.

The movie, directed by Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet, is polished, fluid. It’s so pretty that one walking unknowingly into it might mistake it for a skate film. It’s not, but skateboarding sequences – in slow motion, inside abandoned homes and swimming pools – make up much of the movie’s August-sunburst beauty.

But beauty is only half of it. The other half (or more) is the kids themselves: two boys, one girl. The boys — Kevin and Garrison – are best friends looking from something to do. Skating, sometimes for a youth ministry, takes up considerable time, so does chilling with girls and hanging out in the ruins of the housing bubble: abandoned, graffiti-tattooed homes, waterslides, mini-golf courses.

While the boys look like punks with their Black Flag T-shirts and dyed hair, they aren’t. The movie reveals them as tender-hearted, even God-fearing kids trying to do right by their friends and for themselves. However, they are teens, and cannot escape the awkwardness of social growing pains.

Kevin, for instance, talks about cutting himself and jokingly reprimands his best friend for not noticing the marks on his left arm. “They’ve been there for a week,” he says. Garrison, in an attempt to laugh it off, tells his friend to quit the cutting lest he turn into a creep. Watching the scene is odd. The appropriate gravity seems to be lacking; the issue is left floating on the screen, like a drop of oil in a swimming pool.

Other awkward moments wash before the filmmakers’ lens. An example might be the documentary’s female focus (a girl named Skye) learning that her junkie mother is still alive. She gets the news when her mom tries to friend her on Facebook. Yikes.

Such knots in the narrative are spliced between images of the kids on tire swings, hip-hop dancing in high school hallways. The juxtaposition of joy and crisis, augmented by the unpredictability of where the doc is going, gives Only the Young a youthful, gentle flow. Moreover, the film is made all the more interesting by the fact the teen subjects aren’t something out of Kids. Garrison, Kevin and Skye are healthy, in a word “normal” teenagers —  they’re not too difficult to relate to.

Indeed, while watching Only the Young you might get the idea that you’re looking into a mirror, seeing bits of your own youth, if only dimly.

“Only the Young” is playing at St. Anthony Main. Click here for more.


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