The Young Offenders is one of the most beautiful, heartfelt and delightful movies I’ve had the pleasure of watching. I was searching for something else on Netflix when this underrated delight popped up. It’s weird and wonderful in the way so many British and Irish comedies are, with genuine heart underneath its gruff exterior.
Conor and Jock are teenagers with a dream. Well, sort of. They’re high school drop-outs with the same ‘in’ haircuts, track suits and a smattering of hair that passes as a moustache. Jock is notorious for stealing any bike he sets eyes on in Cork, while Conor spends his days serving customers next to his mum at a fish market. He doesn’t even eat fish. But when Jock sees a news report about a multi-million Euro cocaine seizure off the coast, he suggests the pair find their fortune in one of the many bales (alone worth €7 million) left floating in the raging ocean. They set off on stolen bikes and, as is the way with any premise like this, find much more than the drugs which could drag them out of their dead-end lives.
Conor and Jock are portrayed beautifully by Alex Murphy and Chris Walley. Both are from homes where love is in short supply. Jock’s dad has taken to the bottle after the death of his wife, stealing his son’s scant savings to buy more alcohol. Conor’s mum doesn’t do much except yell, telling him how useless he is. They find comfort in each other, and there’s real brotherly love between them. It’s beautiful to see a film which celebrates the male friendship, vulnerability and emotion included. This relationship is only surpassed by Conor’s relationship with his mum (Hilary Rose) as my favourite element of the film. It would have been easier to focus on the boys and their misadventure, but a few minutes over a packet of microwaved chicken nuggets are perhaps the best part of Young Offenders.
Interspersed with the grim scenes of terraced housing are shots of breathtaking beauty along the Irish coast. You’d be forgiven for thinking these scenes were from a travel promotion. They’re stunning. And a couple of lads swaggering in on bikes certainly stand out against this landscape. But the film feels quintessentially Irish. In fact, subtitles substantially improve the viewing experience and allowed me to pick up on some of the quick wit I missed in the thick accents. It was just my style of smart humour, which usually requires two or three viewings to fully appreciate.
A tough, street-smart film with a beautiful heart, The Young Offenders is a hidden gem. Scenic shots are a delightful addition to a truly beautiful film about contemporary life in Ireland.