25 posts categorized "Coming-of-Age"

July 28, 2013

THE SPECTACULAR NOW

Spectacular NowThe Powerlessness of Positive Drinking —
Teen Alcoholism Has its Perks

“The Spectacular Now” is the work of inexperienced screenwriters. We know this because of their handling — or rather mishandling — of the film’s underlying theme of teen alcoholism. The sophomoric script-writing duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (“500 Days of Summer”) adapt their second Tim Tharp novel into a thematically ambiguous film in love with an idealized notionn of teen-male-invulnerability. Newbie director James Ponsoldt puts the camera in the right places, but exerts no corrective influence to compensate for the script’s shortcomings that crop up like gophers on an infested golf course.

Miles Teller (“Project X”) plays Sutter Keely, a romantically inclined kid living the confident life of a well-loved high school senior with the world at his feet. Still, Sutter is haunted by memories of his absent father (Kyle Chandler), who was sent packing by Sutter’s hospital nurse mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) when Sutter was a boy. Sutter carries a flask of whiskey everywhere he goes. He mixes it with soda that he drinks from a large plastic cup while working as a sales clerk at a men’s clothing boutique. He also indoctrinates the girls he dates into drinking. His recent ex-girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) asks him if he has yet turned his latest conquest Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley) into a “lush.” We can suppose that every time Sutter steps behind the wheel of his car — which is frequently — that he’s over the legal limit.

The story attempts to atone for Sutter’s irresponsible behavior by painting him as a charming, otherwise well-behaved, young man. He’s even willing to date the homely Aimee as a rebound from his relationship with Cassidy his high school’s would-be Prom Queen. As unreliable protagonists go, Sutter Keely is a ringer.

Spectacular

Such teen romance melodramas used to be the province of television’s “ABC Afterschool Specials” in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. The programs covered coming-of-age subjects, placing a moral lesson as the key to each episode. The programs were cheesy, but generally well acted. “The Spectacular Now” has strong performances going for it, but to what end? Sutter takes Aimee on a three-hour drive to meet up with his alcoholic dad. The experience is devastating to Sutter, whose footloose father would rather ditch the son he hasn’t seen in years so he can hang out with his loser pals at the local dive bar. The drive back doesn’t go so well. Aimee winds up in the hospital, and Sutter ends up with a guilty conscience. It’s inexplicable that he doesn’t get hauled off to jail. There isn’t any fallout for Sutter as a result of his unguarded drinking problem. Not only does Aimee not hold a grudge against him, she’s ready for Sutter to run off to the same college with her — no questions asked.

Spectacular

“The Spectacular Now” beats around its thematic bush about young people’s tendency to live for the moment, rather than considering the long-range implications of their actions. The film’s centerpiece sex scene cues its target audience that unbridled teen sex really is the bee’s knees. Evidently, teen alcoholism has its perks.

Rated R. 95 mins. (D+) (One Star - out of five/no halves)

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June 25, 2013

THE WAY WAY BACK

The Way Way Back“The Way Way Back” is a standard issue coming-of-age comedy with flashes of inspired humor. Witness everything that Allison Janney does with her supporting role as a middle-aged floozy named Betty.

14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) ambivalently anticipates a tedious beachside summer vacation with his divorced mom Pam (Toni Collette) and her piece-of-work boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). During the ride in Trent’s station wagon, Carell’s slimy character sets the tone for the movie when he asks Duncan how he rates himself on a scale from 1 to 10. “A six,” Duncan replies after some blank thought. Trent corrects him: “You’re really more of a three.”

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Granted, Duncan hasn’t yet begun to come out of his shell. Trent’s denigrating behavior is the kind of over-the-top shenanigan to which sons of divorced moms are subjected to when the moms aren’t the best judges of character. Fortunately for Duncan, there’s a cute girl (delightfully played by AnnaSophia Robb) who lives next door to the house in which he’s staying with his piecemeal family unit. Trent has brought along his own teenage daughter, who treats Duncan with even less respect than her old man.

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A kinder and funnier father figure for Duncan comes along in the guise of Owen (Sam Rockwell), the slacker manager of a local water park called — get this — the Water Wizz. Owen takes one look at Duncan and immediately assesses what the kid needs to build some self esteem. Owen innocently razzes Duncan after giving him a job to come to everyday — even if you could hardly call toiling at a water park work when it’s in the company of Sam Rockwell.

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“The Way Way Back” makes no pretense to be anything other more than a movie targeted to a teen audience in need of some commiseration for the crappy way many get treated by their parents and their ridiculous mating partners. The comedy achieves these modest goals, and that’s all it needs to accomplish. Here is a low-key, personal movie that might help a few depressed teenagers get through an otherwise joyless summer. That's a valuable thing.

Rated PG-13. 103 mins.

3 Stars

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This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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June 02, 2013

TIGER EYES

Tiger EyesAlthough tamed by two too many music-video-styled sequences, director Lawrence Blume's faithful adaptation, of his mother Judy Blume's popular young adult novel, has all the right instincts. Willa Holland is outstanding as the film's head-heart-and-loins protagonist Davey, a fierce force of feminine nature whose eyes do indeed match the feline demands of the movie's title — derived from a name she chooses for herself as part of branding her independence.

Image result for tiger eyes movie

The untimely death of her father sends the 17-year-old Davey on culture-shock relocation from New York City to Los Alamos, New Mexico. A brewing romance between Davey and a young American Indian man called "Wolf" (Tatanka Means) shows off Means's gift for sensitive understatement. Together, Holland and Tatanka share a fascinating romantic chemistry on-screen that compensates partially for the source material’s more prosaic dramatic elements.

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"Tiger Eyes" is an affecting coming of age drama; there won't be a dry-eyed audience member. It's intriguing to watch nuanced characters defy typecast in a heartfelt narrative form. The passion of the filmmakers is on the screen. I imagine Judy Blume is proud of her son's straightforward rendition of the story she wrote.

Rated PG-13. 92 mins.

3 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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