There are a lot of films that take aim at the youth of a particular moment in time and hope to speak to and for a generation. Most are just so much noise amongst the zeitgeist they pretend to thumb their noses at. The ones that work usually hold up well as films generation after generation, because they are close enough to their own generation and smart enough to realize that they aren’t exatly saying anything new.
Kids in Love, for example, while a stunning portrait of a sub-section of youth-ish today, reminds of nothing more than Metropolitan, a 26-year-old film that it has almost nothing in common with, except an extraordinary understanding of how its characters represent their own societal woes.
This is a film that sets us up with stereotypes and then delivers characters that, like real people, can’t see themselves as a demographic representative, and aren’t anything like those stereotypes anyway. You have to love the film for pulling that off alone.
Jack (Will Poulter) is working through a gap year with all the aplomb of someone lucky to find their way home. He’s planning a several month “find yourself” vacation with his best friend, but otherwise has no plans at all and life seems to be closing in.
He meets Evelyn (Alma Jodorowsky), a gorgeous, young woman who invites him into her commune-esque circle of friends, a group that has seemingly taken “having no idea what to do with your life,” and spun it into a career of its own. Evelyn serves somehow as the muse of disaffection, while leading only by her disinterest in doing so… and by the sheer force of her beauty’s will.
Before he knows what happened, Jack is halfway down the rabbit hole, reinventing his worldview, both because of and in spite of his attraction to Evelyn and her microcosm.
Where the film breaks the mold of coming-of-age repetitiveness is its attention to its mix of characters and their motivations. Most importantly, it can’t really be said that Jack “comes of age,” through the course of events, and in contrast to most efforts, he isn’t confronted by “adult.” Instead, he is confronted by youth, with all of its conflicting ideals and seductiveness, and slowly realizes the coming-of-age he’s already done… but was trying to avoid.
While Stillman’s brilliant classic had the benefit of harnessing a generation of youth by way of about twenty years of hindsight, Kids in Love is written by two of its stars, Sebastian De Souza and Preston Thompson, who struggle somewhat with polishing lenses their still wearing. Still, while the dialog isn’t as witty, or rapid-fire, it aims to make up for it in authenticity and winning scene construction. It can’t quite manage it, but it’s smart enough to know what goals to shoot for.
Throughout the interplay that becomes almost a commercial for ennui, Poulter’s surprising charm pulls you in, but his emotional delivery comes through better than the material has a right to expect. Coupled with solid turns by the supporting cast, including current it-girl Cara Delevingne, the film doesn’t let you go.
It’s anyone’s guess if this curious “entitlement as aspiration” yarn speaks to its generation, but Jack’s bewilderment at every viewpoint certainly manages to ultimately speak for its generation.