The Spectacular Now

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now

 

 

Feeling, looking, sounding like a very dark John Hughes film (Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller period), The Spectacular Now also has in Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley exactly the sort of actors Hughes might have cast – not the prettiest, but the most personable, the most “relatable” as we now say.

 

It’s Teller’s first starring role, after standing out in a series of supporting roles, notably adding a gloss to the comedy 21 & Over that the sub-standard joke writing certainly wasn’t delivering. And at first sight he’s playing a similar kind of character, the bright funny jock. Except this isn’t the successful jock the movies encourage us to pity – because of their muscular lack of sensitivity – but the jock in trouble, the life and soul of the party who simply won’t go home at the end of the night.

 

We meet Teller’s bright, funny, outgoing Sutter right after his blonde, go-getting and hot girlfriend (Brie Larson, blurring on and off a couple of times) has dumped him, for reasons that only gradually become apparent. And in one of cinema’s more unusual meet-cutes, we are introduced to the new girl in the his life, Aimee (Woodley), when she spots him one morning, unconscious drunk on someone’s lawn as she is delivering newspapers.

 

So here he is, a suburban high school legend whose catchphrase is “we are the party”, and here’s her, an academic, optimistic but fragile flower bowled over when his thanks for rousing him off the turf morphs into something that looks faintly, possibly, like a cool ardour.

 

Maybe it’s Sutter’s permanent tipsiness, we don’t know, but this strange meeting and the even stranger hooking up of these two over the following weeks works because we never quite know how serious he is about her. Is he just spinning the wheels until Her Hotness returns? Is Aimee going to be OK? More existentially, is Sutter?

 

After those jokey-jock supporting roles that he could easily have become too associated with (see Seann William Scott and Stifler), the eye-opener is Teller, who has the wryness and intelligence of a young Bill Murray. Woodley we already know from a bunch of TV and The Descendants, and she’s even better than him – watch out for the multi-layered look she gives Teller at the end of the film and start counting down the days till she wins an Oscar.

 

Director James Ponsoldt gives his actors plenty of freedom, and in scenes relying heavily on long, though not ostentatiously long, takes they repay the confidence with moments of interaction that look so right that you’d swear they were improvised. It’s emotional tightrope walking – at parties, at the pool, at school, out on the street, particularly in the bedroom where one of the most tender and believable love-making scenes plays out. Yes, I thought, that is how it is the first time.

 

Ponsoldt and co keep us hanging over the will they/won’t they precipice. And complementing this through-the-fingers romance is the sense that Sutter is out of control to an extent even he isn’t aware of, and that Aimee is a precious creature who needs to be protected from him but who, bright girl, might have her own not entirely selfless agenda.

 

I could do without Sutter’s backstory and the stuff including the search for his father, not because Kyle Chandler isn’t great as the jock’s good-old-boy drunken feckless dad but because we don’t need telling there’s something lurking in the woodshed. By this point Sutter has been berated by and fallen foul of very male authority figure in the film – teacher, boss, what have you – so we kind of know, we know.

 

So there’s an occasional overrun here, an emotional handbrake turn there, and now and again the plot gabbles on just a touch too conveniently, for the purposes of the film rather than its characters.

 

But as the band Phosphorescent’s Song for Zula echoes over the closing credits, its yearning, hopeful U2/Simple Minds vibe is a reminder that this too is how John Hughes used to do it, in the days when John Cusack would hold up a boombox to a sweetheart’s window.

I know that was Cameron Crowe directing Say Anything, but it’s the same achey-breaky thing.

 

 

 

The Spectacular Now – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Two Night Stand

Analeigh Tipton and Miles Teller in Two Night Stand

 

 

 

Two Night Stand takes the boy wins girl/boy loses girl formula, gives it a millennial spin and then lets its stars, Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton charm the pants off us as they rip the pants off each other.

 

Genuinely fresh and cute, refreshingly forthright and even sexy – most sex comedies, let’s face it, aren’t – its simple two hander story sees Tipton’s sofa-surfing slacker having rebound sex with stoner Teller, then attempting to sneak away from his place in the early hours, only to find they’re snowed in together. Which is embarrassing considering the “fuck you, too” farewells they’ve just been bidding each other.

 

And that’s it: a boy, a girl, a confined space and a simmering row that’s going to wheel – this, surely can’t be a spoiler – through 180 degrees over the coming 90 minutes. Ah, the 90 minute movie, remember them?

 

It helps enormously that the boy is Miles Teller, the stealth star who has suddenly cornered the attractive average guy market in a series of films – The Spectacular Now and Whiplash most recently. As for Analeigh Tipton, more of an unknown quantity, physically in that Emma Stone/Aubrey Plaza territory, the attractive average girl (Hollywood average being a good leap above average average – Tipton is a former model so let’s not get too disconnected from reality). She’s also got a Mary Tyler Moore coathanger mouth, something of her glass-etching whine, as well as MTM’s spitfire comic timing.

 

Though very little that Teller and Tipton talk about after their first and supposedly only night of sex would have made it onto any show Moore was associated with – masturbation, faking orgasm, the ideal thrusting speed to get a girl off, kind of thing. All done with a surprising innocence, because it’s honest, the characters are unusually non-aspirational (he has an impassioned mini-speech against the concept of enjoying your job) and the two actors are just so likeable. And here they are in their very own romcom, so these two actors have also clearly arrived.

 

Most notable about the film is the amount of agency it gives to the Tipton – it’s she who looks for a one-night stand and finds a hook-up, it’s she who’s trying to sneak away the next morning (generally a boy’s trick), it’s she who taunts Teller with his sexual inadequacies and it’s she who later calls him out when he’s giving her “googly eyes”.

 

It’s modern, in other words, but lean, smart, funny and touching too. You want boy to meet girl and stay with her. You’re aware that the obstructions in the way are genre obstructions but you banish that evil thought from your mind and surrender to the emotional logic of Mark Hammer’s screenplay – did I imagine it was faintly reminiscent of Breakfast at Tiffany’s? or that Hammer might also have seen Andrew Haigh’s fabulous romcom Weekend, which had a similar boiler-room premise?  If they are blueprints then Hammer has digested and then moved on, his script never bending itself into unlikely shapes to get where it’s got to go. Two Night Stand is obviously going to be a big hit and, thankfully, it looks sequel-proof. So no Two Night Stand Two.

 

 

 

 Two Night Stand – Buy it/watch it at Amazon

 

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2015