As each summer of explosion-heavy blockbusters comes to a close, I'm always hungry for smaller, quieter, more intelligent movies. No sooner did September start than my Netflix queue exploded with talky dramas and mild comedies. Of course, just being an independent movie is no guarantee of quality; there are plenty of personal, heartfelt films that suck rocks. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm in an indie sort of mood, and to that end, I just caught two recent movies - one in the theater, and one on the couch.

The Spectacular Now came to my attention when it started getting heavily discussed on the websites and podcasts I follow. If all you knew about it was the plot summary, you wouldn't think it's much different from any number of forgettable romcoms floating around: Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a popular high school senior who's having difficulty adjusting to the upcoming transition into adulthood, and it doesn't help when his girlfriend dumps him because she can't envision a future with such an emotionally stunted guy. He seeks solace in quiet wallflower Aimee (Shailene Woodley), and she takes an immediate liking to him, despite his issues with a broken family and frequent drinking. Their relationship seems doomed for any number of reasons, and indeed, the movie spends 70% of its running time building up to an apparent disaster. When the conflict (and the ensuing resolution) does arrive, it's kind of a letdown, in that it's a well-worn movie trope that I won't spoil, but will say that I wish writers would stop relying on it.

Still, I walked out of the theater liking a lot about the movie, due mostly to its talented cast. The casting and characterization in this movie is very refreshing in its realism. The popular guy isn't super-hot, but coasts on his charm. The blond ex-girlfriend has a working brain in her head, and reasonable life goals. The wallflower isn't teased or bullied for keeping to herself. The conflicts stem from real problems, and not the usual contrived bullshit about misheard conversations or jealousy over who danced with whom. While I doubt the movie will be making my personal top ten anytime soon, it was well worth the price of admission.

The Spectacular Now was based on a book that seemed a natural choice to adapt into a movie, which brings me to the other movie I just watched, Sleepwalk With Me. When I outlined what guides my grading system, I left out some important questions that sometimes run through my head: Why was this made? What was it supposed to accomplish? And given what it was trying to go for, did it succeed? So let me preface the upcoming paragraph with the fact that I like Mike Birbiglia a lot. I think he's a very funny comedian, and when I heard the stories of Sleepwalk With Me as a "set", I enjoyed it.

But what was the point of making this movie? These stories are already out in the world as a one-man show and a book. Was it really essential to release it in a third, mildly-fictionized form? Who's the audience? What does the movie give us that the show and book don't? And the answer to that last question is, regrettably, "nothing". There's nothing much objectionable about the movie - if I didn't know anything about Mike Birbiglia and was coming to this with a blank slate, I wouldn't have had any problems with it. But that's the whole problem. I don't understand why people who aren't familiar with the story would choose this as their first exposure to it, and there's nothing involved that adds any value to those of us who are familiar with it. It's a fine movie. The story is as solid as it ever was, the acting is solid, and it's well-shot. But like the jackal Birbiglia dreams about, it has no reason to exist.

The Spectacular Now: B-
Sleepwalk With Me: C


Post a Comment

Copyright © Slice of Lime