Young Adam moves at the pace of the barge
its characters live on.
Set in the 1950s in the canals between Glasgow
and Edinburgh, the film trails Joe (McGregor),
a generic drifter/tortured writer type who must
grapple with a dark secret. Joe, who has recently
taken a job with a family of barge-people, spots
a dead woman in the canal and fishes her out with
the help of the vessel’s captain, Les (Mullan).
A little too touchy-feely with the body and prone
to giving hints about what “might” have
happened to the drowned woman, it seems Joe is making
a half-assed cry for help, but alas, none of the
other characters care to listen.
Through Joe’s gaze we meet Les’ homely,
miserable wife Ella (Swinton). Cold ball-breaker
that she is, Ella is powerless against the charms
of the bohemian mystery man, and one can’t
really blame her, because her husband is an impotent
drunkard. Living in such close quarters, Les is
bound to find out that Joe is sleeping with his
wife, and although Ella hopes to leave Les for her
new lover, Joe has his fingers in various other
pies. Director David Mackenzie takes about
10 minutes to set up this situation, then lets it
go downhill from there.
The story itself isn’t horrible, because
Mackenzie didn’t write it; it is an adaptation
of a novel by Alexander Trocchi. However,
Mackenzie manages to stifle its captivating elements
by over-directing and under-editing. The film desperately
needs paring-down. The real mystery of Young
Adam isn’t the case of the floating corpse,
but the director’s decision to include such
an obscene amount of boat-riding footage.
Mackenzie attempts to mask the monotony with a
non-sequential narrative and a lot of nudity, but
face it, for all its flashbacks and T&A, Young
Adam is still a sinker. Unfortunately for McGregor,
it isn’t razzle-dazzle spectacle like Moulin
Rouge! As much as he wants to embody anti-heroic
intensity, he seems frozen in a perpetual state
of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
But is this movie sexy? It damn well should
be, because the many “Look, I’m on a
barge!” scenes aren’t at all stimulating.
While there is a lot of sex—especially in
the great outdoors—Young Adam is more
foggy than steamy. The NC-17 rating is a gimmick.
The hot gossip: Mr. McGregor’s few seconds
of full-frontal nudity were slated to be cut from
the U.S. release, but McGregor, man on a mission,
insisted the footage remain intact. For all his
phallic pride, his flash of nudity does nothing
for the movie. His character is simply uninteresting.
Even in the few moments when Mackenzie comes close
to shocking or disturbing us, the forcedness of
the acting and the film’s general lack of
continuity spoils the effect. All in all, though
Tilda Swinton’s performance isn’t half
bad and the cinematography is sometimes attractive,
Young Adam just isn’t worth seven dollars
and two hours of your time.