Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: The Spectacular Now

I am known among my friends as the guy who will defend art house moves. The usual complaint I will hear about them is that they’re boring, which I tend to disagree violently with (if you can watch Drive and honestly tell me it’s boring, there’s something wrong with you). But if and when someone accuses The Spectacular Now of being boring, I will unfortunately have to nod my head and say ‘Yeah, pretty much.’

The plot is about Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a carefree but casually douchey high school senior. As the movie opens, he is dumped by his girlfriend, which causes him to go on a bender. He winds up collapsing on the yard of the supposedly unpopular geeky girl Amy (Shailene Woodley, who is way too conventionally attractive to be unpopular, but that’s to be expected). He decides she’s worth hanging out with, they begin to grow closer annnnnnnd…no prizes for guessing where that’s going.

If I had to nail down an issue with this movie, it would be that it’s just so fucking dull. The plot doesn’t seem to really go anywhere, it just sort of meanders around for 90 minutes. Scene after scene just sort of goes by without any sense of plot or urgency or progress. Plot threads, like Sutter’s budding alcoholism, his issues with his father and Amy’s confrontations with her mother pop up and then disappear, often being resolved offscreen or trailing off without any resolution. Even the big important scenes, like Prom (the center of your high school existence, or so high school movies keep informing me) doesn't seem to move the movie forward at all.

Usually I’d be totally on board with this, as an attempt to show the pointless monotony of high school or even just a stylistic choice, but something is off. It isn’t a pacing issue (one of my favorite movies of all time is 2001 a movie paced like a river of cement) or a lack of event thing (Cosmopolis, a movie with basically no event, is still one of my favorite movies of last year) but something doesn’t work. I think it’s just how poorly it all fits together. Sutter’s arc makes very little sense, and although he seems to change and grow as a person, it isn’t until the last act and it doesn’t seem to be triggered by anything.

This very thin arc combined with the slow pacing and the fact that, for the majority of the movie, Sutter is a massive douchebag, to completely kill my engagement and make the film completely boring. There are some good parts, such as Sutter meeting his father, but the majority of the movie is so completely dull and pointless that I can’t get involved. And it must be said, one of the movie’s big dramatic moments is so poorly staged that it becomes unintentionally hilarious.

It’s also a very dully directed movie, with no real visual style or interesting direction to speak of. The direction is so straightforward and passionless I had to check to make sure Tom Hooper didn’t direct it. The screenplay is also painfully on the nose, and feels rather out of touch with modern teenagers (although given that I was out of touch with modern teenagers when I WAS a teenager, maybe I’m the wrong person to judge that).

The lead actors are good I guess, Miles Teller certainly manages to sell all of his big dramatic sequences and while Shailene plays her character well, her character is such a doormat that I couldn’t really get involved in her performance and she’s given better performances elsewhere. None of the other actors get anything more than a relative handful of scenes, so it’s impossible to get a read on them (although the actor playing Sutter’s dad is pretty bad at selling his character).

This feels like a very odd negative review to give. I feel like I should like this film, as it seems like the sort of movie I would be into. But something about it kept it from clicking for me, kept me from getting at all involved. Perhaps that’s unique to me and you’ll have a better experience, but if you’re looking for my advice, you should probably avoid this.

Elessar is a 23 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he finds it very hard to believe you could become a senior in high school in 2013 without having heard of Manga.

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