I didn’t get to see much at Sundance back in January – I was anchored to the Press Office from 8a to 6p every day, managing volunteers, seeing that press got their tickets and screeners, that publicists found rides to and from screenings. Most of what I saw was at night, on those nights I wasn’t too exhausted to climb up Main Street and find a seat in a packed theater.
I saw Lynn Shelton’s new one (Touchy Feely, which I’m bummed to say was just so-so – Your Sister’s Sister remains her gem); I saw a doc about porn produced by James Franco (really not great); I saw Fruitvale (now Fruitvale Station), sure to be an indie smash and an awards season standard.
In just a matter of days, films at the festival develop a reputation – worth seeing, better than expected, only passable, who programmed that?! – and the buzz can make or break a title. The Spectacular Now took an early lead as a crowd favorite, so when I noticed a screening at the venue traditionally set aside for press (staff and volunteers get seats only when everyone else is seated) one morning, I ran it by my boss and got the coverage I’d need so I could sneak away. I wanted to see this one.
I won’t recount the thing plot point by plot point, but the film is essentially a high school love story – big man on campus ends up connecting with that girl in the corner – but this is no She’s All That. Just as you settle in to the journey these two kids are on as they figure out what being in young love means (a charming enough story arc of its own), the film takes a turn that grants it an emotional core that won’t soon leave you. At least, it hasn’t left me.
Miles Teller is a revelation. Part Vince Vaughn – the charisma, the wink-and-nod confidence; part Ryan Gosling – the looks, maybe, but more the depth of performance, the range of exposure he can conjure for just one character. And Shailene Woodley as his counterpart is vulnerable and endearing; though most audiences will think “Oh, it’s that girl from The Descendants” when they first see her on screen, she successfully sheds her previous role. A Jennifer Lawrence in the making.
If you haven’t seen Smashed, go Netflix that now. Last year’s breakout from director James Ponsoldt is some kind of refreshing new style. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the film or its style, and yet, it feels entirely new. He channels incredible performances, digs deep into his characters. He’s done something similar with The Spectacular Now – on the surface, you might figure you’ve seen this movie already. But trust me, with an intimacy, an approachable kind of grit that mirrors Smashed, The Spectacular Now is very fine filmmaking, indeed.