Hardship effects everyone differently. When an adolescent is forced to go through more than they should at their age, we often see the story play out one of two ways. The first is the delinquent route, choosing to lean into crime either for survival or for sport. The other is a fierce dedication to hard work while flying right. There are conversations of privilege and circumstance to be had, but that’s not the discussion that Juvenile is here to have.
The film revolves around Billy (Blake Jenner) and the life he tries to find with Jennifer (Melissa Benoist). Each fulfills one the aforementioned archetypes, with Billy acting as the criminal, and Jennifer as the dedicated and hard working big sister to a house filled with orphans. Each come from a troubled past, and each try to deal with it in different ways. Jennifer’s need to provide for and take care of her family helped lead her down the road she found. Billy finds that same drive once he falls in love with her.
Juvenile has all of the makings of an interesting and emotional story, but falls victim to terrible execution. The film is non-linear, which isn’t always bad in and of itself, but has to be utilized correctly. The non-linear storytelling was used in an attempt to mimic the way an adolescent brain works, jumping from moment to moment at the drop of a dime. Unfortunately, this only works if you have the context of the brain experiencing those jumps. Without that context, you’re left with a choppy and sometimes nonsensical mess.
The story is not without consequence, but is completely void of growth. Inevitably, things go south between Jennifer and Billy, and he finds himself back in the same game he was in previous to meeting her. Once he falls back into his old ways, the stakes are raised higher than ever before, and it ends up being Jennifer that pays the price.
The cost that Jennifer and her family pay ends up being infinitely higher than the one Billy does. Her fate would merely be an annoyance had it triggered some sort of growth in Juvenile’s messy and lost protagonist. Instead, it means nothing to either the character growth or plot. The violent nature of what happens isn’t a problem in and of itself. The film is incredibly violent and raw to its core. The issue is that the rest of the violence means something and results in some sort of progression. In the case of Jennifer, her fate is merely a footnote near the end after playing an immensely important role in Billy's life.
At the end of the day, Juvenile is a bad film filled with some exceptional performances. Each actor shines in their role, and adds to the tone of the movie. Those performances aren’t enough to salvage questionable editing choices and an empty story direction, but do manage to make a bit more of a palatable watch.