The Young Kieslowski
Falling in a similar pattern as other teen-pregnancy type films, The Young Kieslowski is a one-sided tale of a young man’s perspective on being thrown into pending fatherhood. While much has been made of the female perspective on unexpected pregnancy, director Kerem Sanga, (who has one other feature under his belt, 2012’s Trigger Finger), attempts to effectively and humorously portray the thoughts that go racing through the mind of a young man in a situation he has little control over.
Brian Kieslowski (Ryan Malgarini) is a recent enrollee at Cal Tech, a science geek by anyone’s definition, he has long-awaited life in college not only for a chance to escape the tension he feels at home, where his mother is slowly battling lung cancer, but also because he’ll finally be that much closer to accomplishing a more substantial life goal: losing his virginity. When he and his roommate attend a party off campus one evening he meets Leslie Mallard (Haley Lu Richardson). Playing nice-guy to her drunk-girl he helps her home, sobers her up, and ends up spending a night of getting to know this self-ascribed Christian virgin who, while possibly out of his league, seems to connect with him in some way. In a moment of spontaneity, the two decide to have sex and Brian leaves with her phone number, feeling that he’s finally accomplished the impossible. When he accidentally washes Leslie’s phone number off of his hand, he finds it difficult to follow-up with her but takes it as a sign that perhaps he’s meant to move on. Leslie, however, is discovering that her night of temptation has a more lasting consequence: she’s pregnant, with twins. Managing to track Brian down, Leslie breaks the news to him. He doesn’t take it well. Acting on his frightened impulse, Brian simply walks away, mind racing, and ends up face down in the Cal Tech fountain.
After a pep talk from friends, Brian comes to his senses, finding Leslie in class and offering her the hug she needs. From there they have THE discussion. Abortion or parenthood? But Brian, rather than risk losing Leslie’s interest (since he truly likes her) pretends to go along with her decision to keep the babies, secretly hoping her wealthy hard-edged father will talk her out of it. When she chickens out on a visit to her father, they end up at his parents where, in a hilarious scene, he’s forced to tell them the truth of their situation. From there Brian makes some predictably bad decisions, sabotaging his chances with Leslie as a way of coping with his fear of becoming a father. All leading up to an expected finale in the delivery room—where all such films tend to end up.
The Young Kieslowski, while perhaps admirable in its truth about men’s feelings of helplessness when confronted with pregnancy, does little to garner much sympathy for the typical male response. Malgarini plays Brian with just enough geeky innocence to draw out some compassion, but ultimately his attempts to reconcile the decisions he’s made don’t even out. Richardson gives warmth to Leslie and her battle to act on what she feels is right despite what her family and Brian want to push on her, but she lacks credibility. Her feelings for Brian seem mostly motivated by the connection formed between them in the lives of the children she carries, decidedly falling short of real romance. The couple have a sort of chemistry but it’s entirely formed on superficial details, and while it’s cute for the sake of the “rom” part of this rom-com, doesn’t run deep enough to be felt from the screen. The inclusion of their parent’s perspectives adds more dynamic to the story and raises the stakes somewhat, but are also rather predictable.
Sanga’s comedy incites the usual laughs that accompany a young male freaking out, but the weaknesses of Brian’s character are too disappointing to laugh through. There’s nothing progressive here, and while touching at points, and undeniably realistic (and therefore funny) in its emotional touchstones, it feels wrong to laugh at what is essentially the worst of culturally ascribed gender role behaviors.
A version of this review was originally posted as part of our 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival coverage.