Get Duked! ****
Yes, God, Yes ****
Chemical Hearts **
A little over a year on from opening last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, Ninian Doff’s Scottish teen comedy Boyz in the Wood arrives on Amazon Prime next week as Get Duked! Revolving around a group of misfit teens who find themselves being hunted for sport by a tweedy aristocrat (Eddie Izzard) while participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme in the Highlands, the film may have altered its tongue-in-cheek title out of respect for the late Boyz in the Hood director John Singleton, but the horror-comedy mash-up remains an entertainingly crude and surreal coming-of-age movie, with a surprisingly pointed bit of streets-vs-the-elites social commentary running through it.
Making his feature debut, the Edinburgh-raised Doff sets the raucous, irreverent tone early with a retro public information film delivering a very potted, very unofficial history of the aforementioned awards scheme before swiftly sketching out the backstories of his protagonists. Delinquent Dean (Rian Gordon), dim-witted Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and desperate-to-be-streetwise DJ “Beatroot” (Viraj Juneja) have all been forced to participate as punishment for blowing up a toilet; home-schooled Ian, meanwhile, just wants to get his award but doesn’t have any friends of his own to do it with (he’s nicely played by Samuel Bottomley).
High school movie archetypes duly established, the film is less interested in subverting these than it is in using them as a solid foundation for the freewheeling hi-jinks that follow as class politics, psychedelic rabbit poo and a couple of action-starved cops (played by the hilariously deadpan Kate Dickie and Kevin Guthrie) collide. Yes, it’s juvenile and, no, it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but it is funny in a confident, unapologetically gonzo way and the young cast are very endearing.
Sticking with teenagers, American indie comedy Yes, God, Yes serves up a very smart, very funny, very sly takedown of moral righteousness in Red State America via the story of a Catholic schoolgirl’s sexual awakening in the early 2000s. Writer/director Karen Maine, also making her feature debut, uses the period setting to good effect, mining the pre-broadband era of noisy dial-up, chatrooms and the novelty of instant-access porn to score rueful laughs as her protagonist, Alice (Natalia Dyer), furtively tries to enlighten herself about a sexual act she’s been rumoured to have performed at a party. Never mind that Alice’s only sexual experimentation thus far amounts to rewinding her VHS copy of Titanic to repeatedly watch the (mild) love scene between Kate and Leo, or that the classmates spreading the rumours about her are as ignorant about all things carnal as she is. Thanks to the sexual miseducation they’re receiving from teachers who make them watch partial-abortion videos and explain the difference between male and female sexuality using analogies to microwave ovens, she’s torn between her determination to explore her growing curiosity about sex and the craven lies and dogma that insist everything she’s experiencing is a mortal sin.
Maine – who co-wrote the similarly spiky abortion-themed rom-com Obvious Child – is great here at putting us in Alice’s headspace, especially as Alice is sent to a religious retreat where she quietly but forcefully rebels against the strictures designed to reinforce the moral purity of its attendees. It also helps that in Dyer (best known for her role in Netflix hit Stranger Things) she has a young performer with the intelligence and comic verve of Pleasantville/Election-era Reese Witherspoon. Her bemused reaction as the veil of hypocrisy repeatedly falls away before Alice’s eyes is both hilarious and also the key to understanding Alice as she takes her first steps towards self-empowerment in a needlessly oppressive environment.
Teenage self-empowerment is, coincidentally, also a main theme in Iranian director Sadaf Foroughi’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama Ava. In fact it’s telling that there’s not all that much separating society’s fear of female sexuality in either movie. Foroughi, though, approaches her eponymous protagonist’s plight with a seriousness of purpose that’s a world away from couched-in-comedy fury Maine deploys, although the journey of self-discovery and self-actualisation both films’ main characters go on have similarities.
In the case of the latter, Ava’s (Mahour Jabbari) rebellion is triggered by her rapidly deteriorating relationship with her mother (Bahar Noohian), whose decision to drastically curtail her freedoms by limiting her access to boys and controlling who she sees and what she studies, starts having a destructive effect on her mental health and her school and home life. Things aren’t helped by Ava’s seemingly loving father (Vahid Aghapoor), whose willingness to cede all major parenting duties to his doctor wife is intensifying Ava’s confusion about the parental and institutional double-standards she’s witnessing all around her. Making clever use of shallow-depth of field and intriguing framing devices to externalise Ava’s intensifying feelings of entrapment, Foroughi – yet another first timer – has made an auspicious and perceptive film about that real barriers facing the young and the steely defiance required to start pushing past them.
Next to this, Yes, God, Yes and Get Duked!, Chemical Hearts, yet another teen movie, can’t help but seem soppy and soporific. Revolving around a straight-A, straight-laced high school senior (Austin Abrams) who finds his world gradually upended when he falls for the emotionally damaged new girl in school (Lili Reinhart), the film’s angst-ridden earnestness and over-written (and overwrought) dialogue can’t help but bring to mind 1990s teen soap Dawson’s Creek. ■
Get Duked! is available on Amazon Prime from 28 August; Yes, God, Yes and Ava are available on digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon and GooglePlay; Chemical Hearts is available on Amazon Prime
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