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Sundance 2023: ‘Young. Wild. Free.’- Film Review

Jan 30, 2023

Sundance 2023

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“Young. Wild. Free.”

Adapted by a story from Tony Rettenmaier by Juel Taylor, “Young. Wild. Free.” is the feature directing debut of Thembi Banks, who shows a good knack for working with actors.

Algee Smith stars as Brandon, a high-school senior who can’t fully enjoy his teen years, as he is a son forced to be father to his young brother and sister. Their father Lamont (Mike Epps, finally making a mark in a good performance) rarely comes around and seems to only show up to purloin his mother’s prescriptions and bully the young man.

His mother (the always great Sanaa Lathan) is plagued by mental illness that causes her to sleep all day, neglecting the bills and causing the house to get close to foreclosure.

Brandon is a good kid (and an inspiring artist) but the pressures are getting to him.

It all changes one night, while Brandon is at a convenience store. Cassidy (a hopefully breakout performance for Sierra Capri) enters the film like a controlled flame. Calmly walking through the store in a bedazzled ski mask and hot pink fur coat, Cassidy puts items in her purse, causes a mess, and points a gun in Brandon’s face while robbing the cashier.

Remembering Brandon’s calm and getting the address from his license, she shows up at his house. Unbelievably, there is a spark between the two that leads them on what could only be called “mini adventures”.

They drive fast, bash a car, and run out on restaurant checks. Wow. What a boring pseudo-Bonnie and Clyde… until it all gets serious in a moment that causes the already flimsy film to lose all credibility.

There is an even greater betrayal found in the preposterous final act. The finale is a cop out and an example of lazy screenwriting.

Already a film loaded with dramatic missteps, the ending is both a rip-off of another film (which spoilers prevent me from naming) and so ridiculous that it made me angry.

The problems certainly lie in Taylor’s script. The writer so desperately wants this to be a 2023 version of Jonathan Demme’s 1986 classic “Something Wild” with a more serious edge, a goal he cannot achieve.

Taylor also wants audiences to know that he loves cinema. Scene after scene, the endless (ENDLESS!) movie references drown every moment. Look, they’re watching “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”! Hey, Cassidy referenced three Tarantino movies! That scene is a reference to this. This scene is a reference to that. Isn’t that a line from…

This isn’t a screenplay, it’s a patchwork of other people’s films.

There is a point where Cassidy asks if Brandon has seen “Dazed and Confused”. He replies, “And this is relevant how?” Precisely.

While the film goes from uneven to utterly absurd, it must be said that Banks shows skill as a filmmaker. The director’s ability to hold on an actor, letting the performance dominate is refreshing, while her refusal to use modern shaky-cam tendencies during moments of tension is most welcome.

Unfortunately, “Young. Wild. Free.” ends up a film that fails to land and never makes good on its early promises. Most offensively, the script wants to make a statement on mental health issues, but instead uses it as a gimmick.

The cast is extremely talented and Thembi Banks can craft a film. Next time, I hope she can find a screenplay worthy of her obvious talents.

 

Young. Wild. Free.

Written by Juel Taylor

Directed by Thembi Banks

Starring Algee Smith, Sierra Capri, Sanaa Lathan, Mike Epps

NR, 105 Minutes, Confluential Films

 

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