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At what point do we grow up into the individuals we’re meant to be?

The answer is different for each of us. But most people go through late adolescence more or less as a rough, still-forming version of their adult selves, trying to figure out what to do tomorrow as well as after high school.

That’s the theme of “Only the Young,” a genial and visually appealing documentary about several teens navigating life in Santa Clarita, a city of 200,000 30 miles from Los Angeles.

The directing debut of Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims, “Only the Young” captures a few chapters in the ever-changing world of Garrison, his off-and-on girlfriend Skye and his best friend Kevin.

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Set against a dry, desert backdrop of freeway
underpasses, housing ruins, skateboard parks, dump sites and miniature golf, the film is made oddly beautiful at times by the filmmakers’ eye for symmetry and spacious composition, of a big blue sky and sunlight smiling
benevolently upon a
concrete-and-dry-grass environment.

Within that setting, we meet Garrison and Kevin as skinny boys whose major concerns include transforming an abandoned, broken-down house into a skateboarders’ oasis. They seem like nice kids (we don’t learn much about their home lives) who have been friends for years, meandering, exploring and dreaming together. At the same time, their relationship is tested because of competing interests in Skye — a smart, skeptical, quick-to-laugh girl raised by her grandparents — but also because separate destinies are beckoning.

As “Only the Young” shuffles along, we see these people changing their hair, worrying about survival (Skye’s father is released from prison at the same time she and her grandparents are evicted from home) and generally lurching toward adulthood without entirely losing one another. It’s a sweet, sad and terribly nostalgic story for anyone who recalls a similar journey, especially one in which loyalty counts for something.

Tom Keogh:

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