Monday, April 15, 2024

“Y2K”

THE STORY – On the last night of 1999, two high school juniors crash a New Year’s Eve party, only to find themselves fighting for their lives in this dial-up disaster comedy.

THE CAST – Rachel Zegler, Jaeden Martell, Julian Dennison, Lachlan Watson, Daniel Zolghadri, Mason Gooding & The Kid Laroi

THE TEAM – Kyle Mooney (Director/Writer) & Evan Winter (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 93 Minutes


It’s impossible to review Kyle Mooney’s “Y2K” without spoiling a good deal of its surprises. Thankfully, it has many more in store, but this wild sci-fi coming-of-age adventure is best experienced knowing as little as possible. Therefore, this review will start with the bottom line: “Y2K” is a painfully hilarious, hilariously chaotic look at perhaps the last moments before technology took over every corner of our lives and plunged us into the darkened hellscape of the modern internet. It also doubles as a sweet coming-of-age story about making connections with people who seemingly have nothing in common with you (in other words, an impassioned plea to use the internet as a uniter, not a divider). It features superstar-level performances from young talents Rachel Zegler and Julian Dennison, a soundtrack full of bangers, and some wild retro-futuristic production design. Thus, the spoiler-free section of this review ends, so proceed with caution.

New Year’s Eve, 1999. Best friends Eli (Jaeden Martell) and Danny (Dennison) do what all best friends do: Chat over AOL Instant Messenger, burn each other mix CDs, and get together to play video games. Danny, the more gregarious of the two, insists that 2000 will be the year they both lose their virginity, but shy good boy Eli is convinced their loser status will prevent that from happening. When they find out from Eli’s unrequited crush, Laura (Zegler), that nearly the whole 11th grade will be at a New Year’s Eve house party (and that she just broke up with her college-age boyfriend), Danny finally convinces Eli to let loose and live a little. The only problem is that after the clocks strike midnight, all the household electronic items start malfunctioning in a most malevolent way, binding themselves together to create increasingly larger robots and killing people. Will Eli and Danny survive the night and save the world, or will they die virgins?

For any elder Millennial and Gen X audience members, the opening act of “Y2K” plays like a series of sense memory tests. The film opens on the iconic flying toaster screensaver before revealing an old-school Windows desktop screen that connects to the internet with the clarion call of the dial-up modem and those magic words: “You’ve got mail!” Every detail in the film’s production design is painfully accurate, conjuring up memories of AIM away messages, pictures that downloaded one row of pixels every minute or so, and the heavy whirring sound of a CD burner. Once Eli and Danny get to the party, it starts to feel like an homage to teen flicks like “Can’t Hardly Wait,” with each high school clique sharply delineated by not just their clothing but the music that plays around them.

As soon as the clock hits midnight, though, the film switches gears completely, ramping up the absurdity with creature design that looks like a cross between the robot from “Short Circuit” and the robo-cops from “Chopping Mall,” except with Tamagotchis, iMacs, and microwaves for heads. The chaotic sequence recalls another generation-defining apocalyptic comedy, “This Is The End,” with hyperviolent, cleverly-conceived gore making the audience gasp and wince every few seconds. The violence only gets more cartoonish after that, upping the ante with every scene. While the violence itself is always executed for maximum comic effect, it becomes clear after the halfway point that most (if not all) of the film’s visual jokes fall into the same category: Creating tonal dissonance between either two moments (e.g., a character says they will never do something and we immediately cut to them doing it) or an action and the music scoring it (e.g., the use of Brian McKnight’s sentimental ballad “Back at One” during a moment that might have been romantic if it hadn’t taken place in a Port-a-Potty rolling down a hill). All the jokes falling into the same pattern isn’t the worst problem, but when so much of the film relies on shock value, it can deflate much of the fun. Thankfully, the dialogue-based jokes don’t fall into such an obvious pattern, and the fully committed cast ensures every single one lands.

The film’s cast list is bursting at the seams with hot young Hollywood talent. If Martell gives the least interesting performance of the bunch, it’s only because Eli is the least interesting character, a bland hero surrounded by vibrant supporting characters. Martell still gives the role everything he’s got and is incredibly endearing. Laura is also a somewhat bland character, but Zegler is such a natural onscreen that she never comes across that way. Dennison’s screen presence has always been undeniable, and here he gets an opportunity to really let loose as the big-hearted, self-confident Danny. Eli and Danny may be considered losers by their classmates, but Danny doesn’t care, completely unafraid to like what he likes regardless of its general popularity. Dennison’s take-no-prisoners performance is in perfect sync with the screenplay’s comedic tone, leading to several gut-busting, cheer-worthy moments. In smaller roles, Lachlan Watson sensitively tracks how stoner/rocker chick Ash lets down her guard and shows her true, vulnerable self, and Mason Gooding is incredibly charismatic as Laura’s ex, Jonas. Mooney even gets in on the fun, bringing his patented weirdo energy to a small role as a stoner video store clerk.

For all the hilarity on display throughout “Y2K,” Mooney and co-writer Evan Winter have some trenchant things to say about technology and how we have let it take over our lives and divide us into factions ready to go to war with each other at any moment. The only way through is to remember our shared humanity and the fact that somebody who dislikes something that you like isn’t negating you as a person (at least when it comes to pop culture; politics is a separate discussion that is almost completely avoided here). The film also serves as a somewhat prescient warning against the dangers of AI, the usage of which has grown rapidly since Mooney and Winter began writing the screenplay. Mostly, though, “Y2K” is a hilariously unexpected, wild cinematic ride. Even those audience members who weren’t teenagers at the turn of the millennium will be thrilled by the creativity on display. Still, the details of the painfully accurate period may make this a cult classic for those who lived through it.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - A wild, chaotic ride through the turn of the millennium that gets every last tiny detail about the time period painfully, hilariously right.

THE BAD - The joke structure becomes repetitive after a while.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>A wild, chaotic ride through the turn of the millennium that gets every last tiny detail about the time period painfully, hilariously right.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The joke structure becomes repetitive after a while.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"Y2K"