These are two of the better films I’ve seen in 2013. Here is your Buffa review write up.
The Spectacular Now
Running Time-95 minutes
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Cast-Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Andre Royo, Kyle Chandler and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Plot-This is the tale of Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a high school senior and effortless charmer, and of how he unexpectedly falls in love with “the good girl” Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley).
Buffa’s Take-Remember the name Miles Teller. The young actor gives a breakout performance in this sly touching and deeply revealing tale of young love found in the midst of the transformation from teenager to the land of isolated aduts. Teller’s Sutter Keely is the center of the story, the high school party animal who carries an antique set of hidden demons behind his easy going charm and outgoing personality. Sutter talks fast and thinks in a reality based only out of the NOW and has little regard for his future. In a nutshell, he is off the ground. Only when he meets the sweet, smart, strong and grounded Amy(Woodley, effortless feeling flowing from her pores) does Sutter began to slow down.
Director James Ponsoldt teamed up with the writers of the superb 500 Days of Summer(Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) to adapt Tim Thorp’s novel and the result is an engaging blend of true end of innocence romance and misery that never tugs too hard on your heartstrings and doesn’t dwell into sentimental manipulation. This material lives and dies on the abilities of the two central young actors to pull off tough roles. The good news is they are both sensational. They don’t just play a part. Great actors lend a piece of themselves to a role and that happens here.
Teller will instantly remind you of a taller stockier Shia Laboeuf until the final third of the film when he has to really transcend and give a performance that stretches outside the land of gimmicky facial expressions and energy. Woodley wooed us in The Descendants but will have her coming out party in 2013 and this is the perfect start. Amy is exactly what Sutter needs and the final act of the film reminds you how tough that is to make work even in the land of make believe. Sutter parties and is a legit alcoholic who lives under a disguise of carelessness that slowly gets broken down. The matter in which his defense becomes undone isn’t exactly how you’d think and that comes from the true work of the actors. Leigh and Chandler lend their versatile talents to smaller roles, The Wire’s Royo has a few good scenes but this is a two act show.
The Spectacular Now is fully embodied raw pride on display while carrying a few surprises and swimming in the same heartfelt storytelling sea as 2012’s gem Perks of Being a Wallflower. The similarity is the central character’s dilemma and their rise/fall tale isn’t sent through the smooth Hollywood washer machine and instead left out in the cold air for the audience to take at their own expense. Sutter doesn’t cry out for help and Teller doesn’t simply work a job. He steps into the shoes of a teenager who lives like a young man but has the cynicism of an older man. He knows what he is and tries to keep people at a distance. When this film gets close to being sentimental and edges towards familiarity, it wields its heartbreak city dialogue and imagery at your throat.
Miles Teller doesn’t just act in the third act. He breaks your heart with his deft ability to underplay explosive dialogue and does it effortlessly. I’m not saying the kid will win awards one day, but as Sutter Keely, he carves a spot in your heart the same way Michael B. Jordan does with Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station. Sutter has a real problem and the saddest thing is, he knows what it is and can’t win. Woodley is great as well. She is a gifted actress who comes off here as sweet natured and fragile but Amy knows what exactly what she wants and how to get it. When things get dark in the third act, Woodley steps up her game and matches Teller scene for scene.
This movie is the kind of flick The Way Way Back wanted to be and failed (at least to this film-addict). The Spectacular Now will leave you thinking about what went through your mind after high school and where your life has led you to. It’s not award worthy material but instead a genre film that is done with originality and a blunt force conviction. You may think you know where it’s going but it has a few “gotcha” moments along the way. I’d see it again and may just join the advertising campaign.
Running Time-90 minutes
Written, Directed and Edited by Joe Swanberg
Cast-Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnston, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston
Plot-Long time co-workers/best friends are faced with change and battle attraction when their spouses happen to meet.
Buffa’s Take-Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson are so good as Kate and Luke that you nearly forget you are merely watching actors play best friends. As the sentence finishing and lingo infused duo of a brewing company who have been drowning a burning attraction for years with laughs, food and a LOT of beer, the actors are pure revelations. The material is simple enough. They are friends and their spouses and co-workers are simply waiting for the dynamite stick of romance to drop. Whether it does or not is writer/director Joe Swanberg’s magic trick that will keep you looking until the final pin drop. This isn’t your normal romantic comedy people. Please don’t write it off as just another “they will get together in the end and the latest coolest pop ballad will fill the background with a smooth digestive flavor”. Drinking Buddies moves in mysterious ways and the reason it works so well is the top flight acting crew assembled, anchored by the new kids on the block to real drama and that’s Wilde and Johnson.
You may know the two. Wilde is the drop dead gorgeous beauty who battled aliens with Daniel Craig and romanced Ryan Reynolds while Jason Bateman was stuck inside his body. Johnson spins bottles with Zooey Deschanel on Fox’s New Girl and has dabbled in supporting roles in films such as 2012’s Safety Guaranteed. Here, the two are joined by the always reliable Kendrick and Livingston (so cool on screen that he appears to be floating through air while making his lines up as he goes). This is a four part play set inside a movie.
For the first time in a fair stretch of attempts, the heavy parts of this comedy are handled with care and never reach sentimentality. The bar scenes are realistic. The awkward moments of sexuality are strangled by conviction. The actors feel like they know and love the parts they play. When a genre is treated right, magic can happen. Drinking Buddies surprised the crap out of me. This is due to a nail hitting script from Swanberg and his ability to let two unproven actors take on difficult roles.
Wilde has never been this good and I can’t say I am surprised. She was the beauty with talent, something that separated her from Jessica Biel, Jessica Alba and Megan Fox. She barely wears any makeup in the role, drinks convincingly like a fish and plays a strong flawed woman who never shows you every one of her cards. She is a mystery even to herself. Johnson has never been better and puts his easy going charm to good use here and doesn’t let it hide his sudden moments of self-confliction. When he stands still and just stares into the character’s eyes through the camouflage of his beard and Old Style baseball cap, it penetrates your senses and the screen. This isn’t high art kids, but for a movie with this name and expectation, it comes damn near close.
Drinking Buddies is a movie I didn’t want to see end. You think you know where it’s going in the first third of the film only to be led down a different road as the brilliantly paced 90 minute running time comes to a close. It doesn’t run towards its conclusion but slowly walks to it. This is as honest of a romantic drama as you will see in a long time. I haven’t seen a genre film done so effortlessly heartfelt with a heavy dose of reality. This movie has soul to spare. Every romantically involved script feels like a decision is being handed down at the end on the fates of make believe characters. In Drinking Buddies, whether you like the end or not, you must admire the authenticity.
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