Young Hearts Run Free. It’s Alright.

Young Hearts

Imagine Lukas Dhont’s Close (2022) without the edge or Mariano BIasin’s Sublime (2022) without the catchy rock tunes and you get Young Hearts (2024), Anthony Schattman’s coming-of-age/coming-out drama concerning a 14-year-old boy who falls in love with the new kid in the neighbourhood.

If this setup sounds generic, that’s because it is. Nonetheless, Schatteman’s film manages to find some fresh angles and emotionally effective ways to examine those confusing and turbulent feelings that come with your first gay crush. There are far more urgent and exciting films with similar plots, but Young Hearts more or less falls in the above-average range of this crowded genre due in large part to nuanced and authentic performances from its young actors.

In a bit of corny foreshadowing, the film opens with Elias (Lou Goossens) working the merch table while his dad (Geert Van Rampelberg) performs the schlager-ish hit single “First Love” at a community leisure centre. Elias joyously claps along while his sort-of girlfriend Valerie joins in the fun. 

A few other scenes establish Elias’ teenage world — fairly typical family stuff with a supportive mother, grumpy older brother and estranged grandfather who lives in a trailer.

Low-stakes so far, but Schatteman subtly includes a few moments that show Elias lives in a world where some masculine version of heterosexuality is expected, including a father-son shaving moment and a lesson in school about courtship. Tensions arise when Elias catches feelings for Alexander (Marius De Saeger), the new, openly-out kid who moves in across the street. The rest of the film focusses on a budding romance between the two. 

Elias’ coming out process has multiple compelling layers. It’s not just that he fears rejection from parents and peers, or that he doesn’t want to hurt Valerie’s feelings, it’s that he’s in love with someone who’s already gone through this on their own and is already comfortable expressing his interest in boys. 

Elias isn’t quite there yet. He’s worried their love won’t be accepted. That alone puts a snag into their otherwise deeply romantic bond. Alexander’s refusal to start a relationship with an ashamed partner means they might not be able to be together. It’s a difficult lesson for both Elias and the film’s intended audience: it can be difficult to date a queer person who’s living in fear and shame about their identity. 

These coming-of-age Generation films often have blank, boring protagonists who are written as awkward and shy — and that’s fine, lots of teenagers are awkward and shy — but sometimes this makes for boring cinema simply because they don’t react to anything. 

That’s not the case with Elias —  Goossens’ a comfortable, expressive actor and the script gives him things to do and moves to make, not to mention a big tantrum near the end of the first act. He also completely nails a difficult, emotionally charged scene near the end that demands quite a bit from him. This moment alone pushes the rating up another half-star. 

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Jared loves movies and lives with Kiki in Berlin.