Directed by Jason Tippet, Elizabeth Mims. PG. 72 min. Opens Feb. 8 at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
The kids are alright in Only the Young, a winning documentary that takes its comic cues and likeably lazy pacing from its teenaged stars. Kevin, Garrison, and Skye are high-school students living in Canyon Country on the outskirts of Los Angeles. They’re hardly remarkable subjects for a non-fiction film, but co-directors Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims are playing a patient game, focusing on mundane details until they add up into something like a generational portrait. The boys’ giggling fecklessness is deceptive: They actually have big plans for the abandoned house they squat in every afternoon, believing that they can turn it into a skate park. Skye, meanwhile, is a walking contradiction worthy of a Green Day video: a hipster punk who’s also a devout Christian.
Skye’s on-again, off-again relationship with Garrison gives the film its dramatic spine, but Only the Young isn’t filled with surprises. It’s essentially a mood piece, juxtaposing the trio’s various emotional peaks and valleys against the jagged, flat landscape that they call home. It is to the filmmakers’ credit that they find a good deal of beauty in both, and the duo, also doing the cinematography, comes up with a few woozy, slow-motion images of young bodies in motion that linger in the mind. (They seem to be drawing visual inspiration from Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park.) Only the Young also resists the temptation to editorialize about the religiosity running through the town, even when certain dyed-in-the-wool attitudes cause problems for the characters. The film’s vibe is utterly benign: Even a scene in which a church worker urges his charges to “skate for Christ” while handing out free tacos is sweet, and sincere, and not played for laughs.