Part western, part science fiction, wholly original—it’s not easy to pin down — writer/director Jake Paltrow’s latest film, “Young Ones,” which premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival (read our review here), is worth an examination.
Ernest Holm (a gaunt Michael Shannon) and his two teenage children, Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Mary (Elle Fanning), are resolutely holding onto their farmland in a drought-ravaged near future, stubbornly believing that the water will soon return. (In a town that shares an odd optimism, “Pray for rain” is a common greeting.) Paltrow imbues this landscape—using South Africa as a stand-in for the anonymous American West—with futuristic touches, including both a robotic mule and medical advances that are keeping the family’s wife/mother (Aimee Mullins) alive. Not too far away, water flows freely in an overcrowded city, glimpses of which let us know the world has continued to advance technologically, leaving the Holms (literally) in the dust.
The outlier Holms are constantly on guard—from the harsh elements, rogue water bandits, and local rich-boy ne’er-do-well Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult), who sets his sights on both Mary and the family’s land—using weaponry, smarts, and their own determination to stave off threats as long as possible.
Paltrow is a meticulous director who has cut a fully-formed world out of whole cloth. His attention to detail and eye for nuance make “Young Ones” a thoughtful meditation on primal survival. We talked with him this week at Sundance about his inspiration, the challenges he faced, and his many influences, including his godfather, Steven Spielberg (who attended the premiere). Our interview with Jake below. “Young Ones” has no release date or distribution yet, but that will surely change soon. Stay tuned.