A youth gone wild. Wrong side of the tracks. Rebels and causes. The push-pull relationship between adolescence and adulthood has always been fertile ground for emotional storytelling in film. Juvenile, the directorial debut by Bradley Buecker, is a branch of the same tree but attempts to differentiate itself from others through its use of experimental techniques in structure and pacing.
Billy is a caught between criminal activities with his childhood friends, a tumultuous relationship with his mother and stepfather, and a blossoming one with a girlfriend. As it goes, he tries to get out from the bad crowd with his friends, things look good, but something pulls him back (of course), and boom, drama city. Even though a setup this familiar could be used to play mad libs, it wasn’t a chore to watch due in part to strong performances from the cast.
Standouts are lead Billy (Blake Jenner), girlfriend Jennifer (Melissa Benoist), and best friend Mikey (Grant Harvey). Jenner and Harvey channel the same feelings of listlessness, angst, and anger from opposite sides, one trying to get out and the other doubling down. The inevitable conflict that happens between the friends provides for some of the film's highlights. It should be noted that sometimes the scenes may tread histrionic, with physicality swinging and vocal-chords shredding, but where some might find it a turn-off, I see it as admirable. It’s always more preferable that someone take a chance with mixed results, rather than playing it safe.
Likewise, Benoist gives her take as someone who has been where Billy is and is now on the other side trying to help him get out. The blossoming yet fractured relationship between the couple gives another perspective on the effects of Billy’s self-destructive choices. However, despite the two being a real item off screen, I did not feel as invested in their relationship, especially in the early beginnings/honeymoon phase. For something that should be the catalyst that starts a change in Billy’s behavior, it’s a very small spark.
The most divisive element of Juvenile is the way it handles its narrative. Things are shown out of sequence, bouncing back and forth between past and present, and at times, showing moments in reverse. Paired with equally frenetic editing, the end result feels very kinetic, although at points confusing and jarring. It does provide a somewhat accurate, albeit heightened portrayal, of a youth’s mind. The quirks and well treaded storyline of Juvenile will be the ultimate gatekeeper in determining if this one is right for you. Juvenile will not make converts of those who dislike the genre but will be a very refreshing take for those who do.