Not To Be Trifled With
Quick health warning before I start... don't go and see David Mackenzie's Young Adam if you want to be able to carry on looking at custard normally.
I'm not actually sure if there is a normal way of looking at custard, but if there is then I hope that it's not that of Joe (Ewan McGregor) in this film. If you haven't heard about his unique perspective from any other eminent film-reviewing organ of the press, then I won't spoil for you – you'll end up spending the whole film waiting for the moment, and it's not really a very big part of the film.
I'm equally not sure why this film is called Young Adam, given that none of the characters are called Adam, and the central focus is upon Joe. I imagine that fundamentally it's because this film is an adaptation of a novel by Alexander Trocchi, and that's what he called his book (which I haven't read – I imagine it would shed more light on the title).
It's not a film for the timid, or for those who have objections to McGregor's general predilection for full-frontal nudity whenever possible. Basically the film centres on Joe, a young Glaswegian who works on a barge. One morning he and his boss Les (Peter Mullan) fish a body out of the Clyde, that of a young woman whom the police decide was murdered by her married lover. Cue Joe's descent into a moral dilemma, as the film heads forward into his affair with Ella (Tilda Swinton) – his boss' wife, and backwards into his previous relationship with Cathie (Emily Mortimer, supporting an impressively credible Scottish accent), who just happens to be the dead girl.
This is one of those films where I can see that it's good, and I can understand why all the critics are busy slavering over a British film that's not trying to be Four Weddings and a Funeral or Trainspotting, but yet... It's not even that I disliked it, I just wasn't about to stand up and applaud, or even recommend it to most of my friends.
For the Ewan McGregor fans – he does spend his clothed moments looking wonderfully moody in a woolly jumper in the rain1. For those who prefer Emily Mortimer – there is a stockinged moment. However this isn't a film which the no-sex-or-violence brigade should jump up and try and ban. Joe's idea of a relationship is plenty of sex, and no communication, making it all a little depressing.
It's in many ways a film buff's film – beautifully shot, and wonderfully acted (Ewan McGregor must really be aching for his work on Star Wars to end so he can take more parts like this) – but it is at time an uncomfortable film to watch and, frankly, that's not why most people go to the cinema. Really I suppose my ambivalence to the film is quite appropriate, as it's an ambivalent kind of film. Probably why the critics love it so much really - it's a film that will make you appear 'interesting' if you have it in your collection. I probably won't be investing in a copy and yet I really did quite like it.