It was hard enough growing up without the advent of social media. Now, any kid with access to a computer can create an entire identity that may (or may not) reflect his or her upbringing and education. Even worse, these fertile young minds can constantly exposed to a whole host of online influences that might push them into exploring vices that used to be saved for marriage. This doesn't mean that our culture is being undone - rather, it means that those of us who wish to preserve have to work at least as those daily assaulting it with little more than a vivid imagination and the click of a mouse. If you thought parenting was a walk in the park before seeing YOUNG AND WILD, you might wanna give this a spin and think again.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plots and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to my last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
17-year-old Daniela (played with great aplomb by Alicia Rodriguez) is on the cusp of womanhood when she comes to the none-too-startling realization that she's obsessed with sex. We're not talking normal obsession; she's really obsessed. In the opening scene, she's shown lying on a floor filled with the bodies of her classmates - all fast asleep - except her ... and she's doing something normally unthinkable. Coming as she does from a family founded on its church values, Daniela finds herself torn between the dueling influences of her mother - devoutly religious - and her aunt - a free-spirit. Eventually, she dabbles in heterosexual and lesbian relationships with friends Tomas (Felipe Pinto) and Antonia (Maria Gracia Omegna) until her worlds collide, forcing her to come to the painful realization that, no matter how hard you try, you can't have it all.
A strong argument could be made that what complicates Daniela's life is her only true commitment: she maintains a daily blog called "Young and Wild" wherein she not only details her own various sexual proclivities but she also exchanges information and stories from like-minded youth. While her own exploits certainly serve as the foundation to her writing, she finds her curiosity repeatedly piqued with some raunchy and sometimes disturbingly inappropriate input from her very own Peanuts' gallery of nitwits, ne'er-do-wells, and classmates.
However, to chalk all of her mistakes (and, yes, she makes some very serious mistakes) up the downside of social media minimizes the reality of ongoing cultural decay. Disaffected youth become disaffected youth as much as they're made by their own decisions as they are by those made by their elders. Clearly, Daniela's relationship with her mother is tragically flawed as the two don't appear to have a shred of anything in common except DNA. Her father is far removed from her daily life. Her aunt? Well, she tries to be a good aunt - we're shown her efforts to preserve the family - but her own free spirits also get in the way, prompting the young woman at the center of this contemporary morality play to make some less-than-stellar personal choices.
Decay doesn't happen in a vacuum. As much as it's easy to dismiss some of the more mundane adult influences because of their almost Woody-Allen-esque presentation, they're still legitimate. For reasons that are never quite clear except that they come off as not particular hip, Daniela rejects them, embracing her own personal Dark Side (not grim, only a metaphor). In fact, despite being overwhelming exposed to a strong, religious upbringing, she only effectively turns to God (or `god,' if you prefer) when she believes she's found happiness personally, not spiritually. The fact that she's working at a Christian-themed TV production studio only further underscores the irony of her situation.
This one won't be for everyone. Still, I embraced YOUNG AND WILD's playfulness mostly because Rodriguez convinced me she was real. The starlet handled both the disaffection and bubbling sexuality quite well, so much so that it all `felt' real enough. It comes as no surprise that all of this was based on the real-life story of screenwriter Camila Gutierrez's life; indeed, she co-wrote the piece with first-time director Marialy Rivas. Methinks they prove quite an effective pair.
YOUNG AND WILD is produced by Fabula. DVD distribution is being handled through MPI Media Group. For those who need it spelled out perfectly, this is a Spanish-language film with English subtitles available; there is no English dubbing track. As for the technical specifications, this independent features looks and sounds very impressive. As is often the case with these smaller releases, there are no legitimate special features except for the theatrical trailer; this is especially disappointing to those of us who appreciate hearing more from budding auteurs.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. My take on the whole `Sundance' winners thing is sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it wrong, but - despite my particular political and/or social and/or personal misgivings with the subject matter - I still enjoyed much of YOUNG AND WILD. (Curse you, Sundance, for thumbing your nose at mainstream conventions!) The best reason I can give is that I agree with the broader critical assessment praising Alicia Rodriguez's breakout performance. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's "fearless and unforgettable," it's certainly convincing in all the ways it should be - emotionally, sexually, and maybe even spiritually. Right-minded parents - especially those with young'uns who're coming of age - might wanna screen this one privately and talk amongst themselves about how wayward souls can quickly lose their way in today's world heavy with the distractions and appeal of social media.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of YOUNG AND WILD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.