Young Adult Matters follows Sejin (Lee Yoo Mi), a rebellious and typically emotionless girl living with her younger sister who spends the majority of her time finding her way into trouble—whether this be cutting her wrists on Instagram live, sleeping with her principal’s son, or secretly hooking up with the popular girl who acts as her main bully. After finding out she’s pregnant, Sejin goes on a long, violent journey to secure money to get an abortion. Along the way she meets Juyeong (Ahn Heeyeon, also known as KPOP star Hani from EXID), a teen runaway that she instantly makes a connection with. The two girls run into Jaepil (Lee Hwan, also the director) and Sinji (Sin Haetbit), two boys who join the girls in their quest. Led by two strong performances from its leading actresses, Young Adult Matters is a compelling tale of identity, but one that suffers from its self-indulgence.
What makes Young Adult Matters work is the performances given by Yoo Mi and Hani. Both girls shine in these roles, and they bring a sense of realness to the connection that their characters build. Hani transitions beautifully from her previous work as a singer, and this being her first feature film deserves credit and praise. Their relationship is by far the most compelling, and drives the majority of the story. Though Sejin often seems sociopathic, the audience sees a different side to her when she’s with Juyeong, who is also troubled and searching for something that she can’t exactly pinpoint.
Their scenes stand out against the rest of the movie, and the audience is left wanting more from them. Though they are the main relationship in the film, the story suffers when it moves away from their plotline and onto other characters. Yoo Mi and Hani are at their best here, and the difficulty of these roles gives the women plenty of room to explore their untapped talents.
Though the brilliant performances given by the women in Young Adult Matters cannot be ignored, there are some glaring flaws to the story that drags it down. The first noticeable one of these flaws are the characters outside of Sejin and Juyeong, specifically the men. All of the male characters are, in some way, detestable—while this is used to show the cruelty of the world these girls live in, it gets to a point where it is grating and unbearable. The characters of Jaepil and Sinji don’t garner any sympathy from the audience, as their personalities and reasons for acting the way that they do are never explored in depth. Their characters fall flat, despite the efforts given by the actors, and when scenes shift focus onto them, it is repeatedly disappointing.
Young Adult Matters suffers from its self-indulgence and the way that it wallows in the misery of the characters. Though Hwan intends for the world they live in to be brutal and unflinchingly cruel, this often serves as a detriment to the film. Scenes often feel unnecessarily graphic, and the violence gets to a point where it is uncomfortable to watch, though this is not in the way Hwan seems to have intended it. The brutality of the movie is overly melodramatic at times, and takes away from what is supposed to be a realistic depiction of two misguided teens. The majority of the film is violent just for the sake of being violent, and this weighs the story down.
Another noticeable flaw of Young Adult Matters is its length. What could be a story told in 90 minutes drags on for nearly 130 minutes. The final 30 minutes of the film feel unnecessary, as once Sejin and Juyeong part ways, the story loses its emotional core. Though neither of these women is necessarily meant to be seen in a positive light, their connection ties the whole film together. Without it, the film becomes vastly more uninteresting, and seems pointless. Were the film to be cut to a shorter length, and were some of the violent scenes cut from the story, Young Adult Matters would likely be more compelling than it ends up being.
Despite the glaring flaws present, Young Adult Matters is held together by the performances from Yoo Mi and Hani, who keep the story afloat. Though an interesting story, Young Adult Matters is worth watching solely for these performances. Among its brilliant performances is a messy, self-indulgent, and at times overwhelmingly brutal story with more potential than follow through.
Young Adult Matters is available now to rent or buy on Amazon Prime.