The Young Offenders (4 stars)

The Young Offenders

Surprisingly touching Irish comedy charting the exploits of a couple of hapless teens

'There are two things you need for an adventure: a treasure map and someone dumb enough to go with you.' This astute observation comes early in The Young Offenders, courtesy of 15-year-old protagonist Conor MacSweeney (Alex Murphy), and proves to be the backbone of this charming and genuinely funny Irish comedy.

Inspired by the 2007 cocaine seizure off the coast of Western Cork, it sees Conor and his equally-as-hapless best mate Jock (Chris Walley) travel along the Irish coast on stolen bicycles, in pursuit of a missing bag of blow that they believe will make their fortune. As they find themselves in increasingly outlandish situations – including but not limited to encounters with a steely-eyed copper (Dominic MacHale), a handicapped, psychopathic drug dealer (PJ Gallagher), and a sticky incident involving ice-cream – their dream-fuelled road trip soon turns into a living nightmare.

This may sound a bit like The Inbetweeners On Tour, and comparisons are easily made, but writer-director Peter Foott's keenly observed first feature taps a far deeper dramatic seam, playing on the emotional vulnerability of adolescent boyhood as well as its gung-ho foolhardiness. There's plenty of knockabout comedy, thanks largely to the whip-smart screenplay, visual set-ups and the natural – and surprisingly touching – dynamic between superb newcomers Murphy and Walley. A sequence in which Conor teaches Jock to swim is just one lovely moment of the genuine friendship which grounds their farcical escapades.

There are also, however, sharp moments of pathos, mainly involving Conor and Jock's troubled childhood and broken homes. Both are a source of some anguish, but the former's is rather more happy than the latter's – a setup which leads to a conclusion that is undeniably satisfying, if somewhat twee. Despite its convenient Hollywood ending, The Young Offenders remains defiantly home-grown, grass roots cinema; and is all the more enjoyable for it.

Selected release from Fri 13 Jan.

The Young Offenders

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • Ireland
  • 15
  • Directed by: Peter Foott
  • Written by: Peter Foott
  • Cast: Alex Murphy, Chris Walley, Hilary Rose, Ciaran Bermingham
  • UK release: 16 September 2016

Teenage layabouts Conor (Murphy) and Jock (Walley) search for seven million euro's worth of stolen cocaine, in the hope of making their fortune. Charming and genuinely funny Irish comedy, playing on the emotional vulnerability of kids from broken homes, with plenty of knockabout comedy and superb work from newcomers…

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