“There are two things you need for an adventure; a treasure map and someone dumb enough to go with you.”
Written, directed and co-produced by Peter Foott, the Irish comedy film The Young Offenders (2016) is based on the real-life event known as Operation Seabight, which involved the seizure of 1.5 tonnes of cocaine off the Irish coast in 2008. The film has also led to the development of a sitcom of the same name, which began broadcasting on RTÉ and BBC Three in 2018.
Disillusioned with their lives, Jock Murphy (Chris Walley) and Conor MacSweeney (Alex Murphy) start to dream big when they hear the news that 61 bales of cocaine have fallen into the sea off the Irish coast. Deciding to leave behind their dysfunctional families in a bid to seize a single bale and alter their futures forever, the boys steal two bikes and hit the road. Little do they know that Sergeant Healy (Dominic MacHale), who has been on the hunt for Jock for stealing bikes around Cork, is hot on their trail. But no threat seems greater than the man they refer to as the “drug dealer”, whose vehemence in recapturing his share of cocaine throws everyone for a loop.
The Young Offenders embraces unpredictability with crushing strength. Its arms enfold conversational humor, which the film displays like a boy showing off his first chest hair. Instead of witticisms and puns, the film focuses on the hilarity of normal, everyday conversations between two fifteen year-old boys dubbed “retards” by their own parents. While appalling, these putdowns serve to solidify the stereotypical nature of the characters we are dealing with, turning every mishap and sobering shot of realism to something improbable enough to allow us to laugh freely at tragedy.
Jörg Schweinitz observed this strange phenomenon in his work on stereotypes and narratives, noting that this “de-realization” of clichéd characters leads us to perceive them not as real people, but “puppets in an obvious game”. Maybe that’s why Conor and Jock’s likeness to Pat & Mat (1976 – present), the Czech and Slovak slapstick stop-motion animated series about two neighbors crippled by their shared stupidity, doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
The Young Offenders is wonderfully fast-paced, guiding us first through the streets of Cork, then out onto the road, where situational humor is unleashed with a fury. Hardly a drama, despite some heavy themes and truly emotional catalysts, the film often feels more like a low-budget, rural take on an action movie, pairing slow-motion tussles with rollicking music. What helps capture the authenticity of this Irish gem is the fact that both leading actors come from Cork. Their thick accent, which may be the cause of many stupefied expressions abroad, embalms their frightfully convincing acting.
Above all, The Young Offenders pays homage to that nostalgic teenage friendship we all hold dear to our hearts. In an interview with BBC Writerswroom, Peter Foott admitted that the foundations of the film were built on his own childhood friendships, which have stood the test of time. That’s why, despite the endless frenzy and excitement coming off the screen, the heart of the story beats to the erratic rhythm of the beauty found in the mundane.