There have been many coming-of-age films set in the 1980s that work so well, such as Let The Right One In (2008), This is England (2007), Adventureland (2009), and Mysterious Skin (2004). Most of them centered on the often misunderstood, sometimes violent youth engaged in sex, drugs, and rock & roll. They touched upon the lost souls who were trying to figure out their lives, and their place in the world during a time of materialistic excess, punk rock music, and the ever horrible yuppie generation. Some of them managed to remain relevant, while others were quickly forgotten. In this case, directing duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini's adaptation of Eleanor Henderson's novel of the same is a mixture of both. It is a well-acted, personal, but often awkward depiction of youth at a crossroads, and their lives in the midst of change.
The story first begins in Vermont where Jude (first played by Henry Kelemen) is given a cruel blow: his tough mom, Harriet (Julianne Nicholson, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) kicks out his drug-addicted hippie dad, Les (Ethan Hawke, Boyhood) for getting another woman pregnant. It gets even more bizarre when Les tells him that he is actually adpoted.
Cut to several years, Jude (now played by Asa Butterfield, Hugo) has grow up to become a moody teen with a heavy hatred for his father, who has had limited contact with him since his early years. His plans to get stoned with his best friend Teddy (Avan Jogia, TV's Twisted) during New Years' Eve takes a turn for the worst when Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit), the 'wild child' daughter of Les' current girlfriend Diane (Emily Mortimer, City Island) comes into town. In an unexpected twist, after Eliza takes Teddy's viriginity, he later dies after he and Jude pass out in the freezing snow.
After Teddy's death, as he arrives in New York with Les, Jude runs into Eliza, who finds out that she is pregnant with Teddy's child. This sets off a chain of significant events that ultimately bring together Jude, Eliza, and Teddy's older half-brother Johnny (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild), the leader of his own hardcore punk band, as their lives shape and change, especially during the arrival of the 1988 riots at Tompkins Square Park.
Although Berman and Pulcini do receive amazing performances from their entire cast, especially Steinfield and Hawke, the overall film falls a little short of their previous breakout success American Splendor (2003), which continues to be their greatest film. However, despite the obvious flaws of Ten Thousand Saints, such as the lack of certain development of secondary characters and tired cliches of the coming-of-age genre, it does manage to capture a certain kind of New York. A New York that was forever changed by the AIDS crisis, the yuppie invasion, and the new counterculture.
So overall, I think this film is a good change of pace from the usual, overhyped summer blockbusters. If not for the story, see it for the great performances from the up-and-coming young talent (Butterfield, Steinfield, Hirsch) and veteran actors (Hawke, Nicholson, and Mortimer).