“I think it’s everybody’s fault.”
It’s common for freshman screenplays to be scatterbrained, filled to the brim with ideas but ultimately incoherent. Picking up the pen for the first time, Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some!!) doesn’t change that but there’s good reason. Directed by Ryan Murphy favorite Brad Buecker, Juvenile is a true fever dream of those formative moments of adolescence in its purest form.
Despite being one of the most prestigious film festivals around, being rejected by TIFF may have been for the best. It was rejected for being too common of a story of troubled youth. Following that news, Buecker went to town in the editing room, slicing the order of events, rewinding others, and ultimately injecting new life into the project.
Following Billy (Jenner), a troubled high schooler who gets caught up with his longtime friends and their favorite after school activity grand theft auto, Juvenile is also a portrait of his surroundings. There’s his motley crew led by Mikey (Grant Harvey) that throw Billy into a spiral both in school and at home, throwing punches at his stepfather, yelling at his confused mother, and attacking his teacher (employing far too little Greg Germann). As the ringleader, Mikey, a classic tough guy, takes things too far and leads to the death of Billy’s closest friends- an inconvenient catalyst for Billy’s arc.
On the flip side, his girlfriend Jennifer (Melissa Benoist) brings out the best in Billy, influencing his performance in night school and surrounding him with a family. But his noticeable changes also lead to Mikey’s envy and frustration his best friend that used to be ride or die is detached from the group, going completely off the grid.
With memories of carjackings and nights at an underground club among others, things tend to get a bit muddled on their own but serve a bigger purpose to represent a combustive, pivotal time in Billy’s life. At the same time, the mirror’s held against Mikey too, an all too independent punk that’s a direct product of his hopeless environment- showing only pulling yourself by your bootstraps to escape only trips you up.
Describing the story doesn’t do it enough service considering the by-the-books approach and characterizations at play. There are its moments of situational prowess, particularly anytime Jenner and Benoist share the screen (considering their personal relationship, that should be no surprise) but most of the success falls on the shoulders of its juvenile-evoking structure.
Moreover, the whole aesthetic on shoestring budget reminiscent of American Horror Story (particularly Hotel) following two coloring processes. That comes as no surprise as Buecker is one Ryan Murphy’s righthand men and as such, brought along Glee and Scream Queen’s cinematograph Joaquin Sedillo on board as well as Horror Story composer James Levine in too. Add to that, Murphy’s casting director Robert Ulrich who helped find the perfect, brooding figure to elicit Mikey’s inner conflicts. Jenner’s internalization of a character a few years is even more commanding as expected.
With all the talent from acclaimed productions, particularly under Buecker’s direction and skillful remixing of Jenner’s base ideas, Juvenile is a viciously unique portrait of youth and all its troubles.