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Review: ‘Get Duked!’

Even though the young men featured in Ninian Doff’s energetic comedy Get Duked! aren’t the most likeable of characters when we first meet them, they do grow on you. And by the film’s end, their unwitting streaks of dumb luck (and Doff’s wonderfully poised sense of aesthetics) are enough to make us care about them in a manic comedy that’s both gratifying and just broad enough to appreciate the film’s weird edges.

The young men in question are Dean (Rion Jordan), DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja), and Duncan (Lewis Gribban), juvenile delinquents forced to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh wilderness trek across the Scottish Highlands in the hopes of reforming them from the toilet-exploding escapades that landed them there. Also along for the trip is Ian (Rian Jordan), who sticks out like a sore thumb because he’s there for his own intellectual and survival edification. One running gag shows him studiously checking, and then erasing, skills such as “teamwork” and “foraging” that should be collected by the group along the way.

Unceremoniously dumped in the middle of nowhere and told to meet their counselor (Johnathan Aris) several miles away at a campsite, Get Duked! begins like a teen version of something legendary British filmmaker Alan Clarke might have made in his day, although I’m sure his version would have highlighted the drugs and morose angst of these boys tenfold. Instead, in the hands of filmmaker Doff, the film swerves from comedy to witchy horror in an instant as the boys are soon tailed (and shot at) by a masked man (Eddie Izzard) who seems more concerned with ethnic cleansing than helping these poor sods find their way along the fields.

Naturally, Get Duked! doesn’t mire itself within incestual-like horror tropes for long. It’s too buoyant and littered with wonderful sight gags to take itself too seriously. Stop-downs for music videos (since DJ Beatroot’s rap skills become a huge linchpin for the narrative), drug-addled episodes, and entertaining comedic twists fill the second half of the film. This is a film that generates enormous humor from a rolling van in the background, or the manner in which the local police (led by actress Kate Dickie) become excited when they can replace their top current case of “bread thief” to “pedophile terrorist”.

Generating large buzz coming out of last year’s South By Southwest Festival, Get Duked! should impress anyone looking for a rather shaggy comedy in humble clothing.

Get Duked! begins streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday, August 28, 2020.

Review: ‘Chemical Hearts’

Based on a novel by Krystal Sutherland and directed by Richard Tanne, Chemical Hearts contains all the trappings of solid teen-fiction fascinations. At the center, there’ s a moody young relationship between two high schoolers whose unstable grasp on life causes lots of tears and swerving emotions. There’s a dark tragedy that haunts one of them. There’s even references to Neruda’s poetry that cites “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”

But in between these eye-rolling characteristics of the genre, there’s also a supreme delicacy in telling a story that understands the incremental honesty and trust that develops in a new relationship, sold brightly by its two young leads and Tanne’s sure-handed direction that balances the mush with the masterful. It’s not an easy task, but Chemical Hearts should appeal to a variety of ages: those who fawn over the novel and others like it, and those looking for a movie that brushes a naturalistic light on young love.

The couple at the center are Henry (Austin Abrams of Euphoria) and new transfer student Grace (Lili Reinhardt, so great in last year’s Hustlers). They meet outside the office of the school newspaper where Henry notices her reading from the above-mentioned Neruda poetry. His awkward advances are shrugged off, naturally, and he only becomes more intrigued by Grace when she casually rebuffs the offer to be co-editor with him on the upcoming school newsletter.

It’s not only this decline of a great opportunity that interests Henry (after all, his only ambition in life is to write for a living), but Grace’s aura of sadness and mystery, embellished by the walker she uses in moving around and the damaged way she reflects every bit of attention thrown her direction. Grace is a magnificently haunted young woman, and through Henry’s slight chipping away of the stone, the two become friends and ultimately something more.

As more and more of Grace’s past become overt, Chemical Hearts does lose a bit of its allure. The first half, as the two spend time together and Henry becomes a confused witness to the sadness lingering within Grace, builds up rapport between the two actors with sincerity. It’s something filmmaker Tanne is acutely aware of, as his previous film Southside With You (2016) sweetly chronicled an imaginary first date between a young (future President) Obama and (future First Lady) Michelle. And though Chemical Hearts dispenses with that film’s short window of time and studies Henry and Grace over a fraught final semester of high school, the timid steps of enrapture, intelligence, heartbreak and growth that evolves in a relationship is just as incisive. Perhaps he’s hedging for this generation’s Richard Linklater award.

This is not to say the latter half of the film is a failure. Far from it. By the time the heavy stuff hits, we care about Grace and Henry and feel the gut-punch of rejection that much more, but it still all feels a bit orchestrated for maximum John-Greene-morose-teen effect. Regardless, Chemical Hearts deftly illustrates the illogical mania behind young love. Who hasn’t smashed a cassette tape of a certain song because it belonged to “us” as a couple and couldn’t be endured after that couple no longer existed? Who hasn’t sat up at night pondering the simplest inflection of a text message?

All of this may redundant in teen fiction, but it hits hardest because it happens, no matter your age. Chemical Hearts swims in this heartbreak magnificently and reminds us that, yes, most love does exist between a shadow and a soul.

The film will begin streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday, August 21.