Adolescence is plotless by nature, a rudderless epoch in which boys and girls gain control of their destiny and then lose it several times a day. So it’s fitting that Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet’s documentary about the lives of three California teenagers—Garrison, Kevin and Skye—moves in fits and starts. Canyon City, the SoCal desert suburbia where this trio of young adults ride their skateboards, listen to Black Flag and go to church, feels like a ghost town—full of abandoned houses and even a gone-to-seed miniature golf course, symbolically smashed up and dried out.
The doc’s subjects, meanwhile, move in circles: Garrison and Skye, who are devoted (if chaste) sweethearts, break up, date others and return to their mutual orbit, never quite settling on the nature of their relationship. (Only the Young plays fast and loose with chronology; only its protagonists’ ever-changing hairstyles serve as markers.) But at times, the film’s lyrical drift shades into incoherence, spackled with globs of free-floating voiceover and Larry Clark-like indolent moments. It’s both lovely and frustrating, at least until hard times lay bare the gulf between Skye’s fractured family and the boys’ more stable lives.
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