Brandon T. Jackson
1 Hr., 42 Mins.
The Year of Spectacular Men / Flower November 20, 2018
1 Hr., 30 Mins.
role. The feature was produced by Thompson’s husband, and Madelyn and Zoey’s dad, Howard Deutch, who directed Pretty in Pink (1986) and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) back in the day.
In The Year of Spectacular Men, the Deutch sisters play siblings; Thompson appears, in a pivotal role, as their mother. Jogia, perhaps too on-the-nose, plays Zoey’s boyfriend. So I wonder how much of the movie, which is something of a coming-of-age story — even though its heroine, for all intents and purposes, is “of age” — is informed by real life, and how much of it is farcical fantasy. Undoubtedly, though, this film is personal, not just because of all the genetic ties, but also because packing a writing and a directing debut into single film entails we feel at least some of the self-sacrifice.
In the movie, the elder Deutch sibling plays Izzy, a desultory blonde who begins the film an in-crisis college senior and ends it as an in-crisis young adult. The meeting in the middle arrives about partway through the film, when she graduates with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Anxious and unmotivated — though more of the latter — Izzy moves to California to live with her actress sister (the youngest Deutch) and her boyfriend (Jogia). The goal is not necessarily to become a working professional but to gratify the “having fun” dictum that’s supposed to dictate your early 20s.
As the months drift by, though, Izzy notices that she’s not having fun. Her romantic relationships are recurrently brief and disappointing; her stabs at career-starting (she aspires to become an actor) are markedly futile; her zest for life progressively wanes. At a certain point into the move, all she wants to do is stay in and watch The X-Files (1993-2002), yet even that eventually begins losing its distracting sort of thrill. Hanging over Izzy, too, is the recent death of her father.
She will build some veneer of happiness by the end of The Year of Spectacular Men, and it’s a happiness for which we come to hanker. Though the film is mostly an infrequently good romp, with most of its inspiration coming from the sometimes-sui-generis dialogue, Madelyn soundly crafts a character whom we learn to care for, even if the feeling that she’s a character never quite goes away. (I’m partial to conjecturing, too, that, if Madelyn and the always-wonderful Zoey switched parts, the movie would fly higher than it does.)
Thompson and her oldest demonstrably want The Year of Spectacular Men to not just be an acerbic finding-yourself style dramedy, but also a meditation on the hazards of modern romance, and the omnipresent, crushing pressures that follow postgraduates like personalized rainclouds just moments after they’ve tossed their academic hats in the air. Izzy, time and time again, falls in with losers who don’t respect her — one guy (Jesse Bradford) calls her “sexy in a goofy Special Olympics way” — and in her aimless months spent in California, she beats herself up about what she isn’t doing well at. Normal stuff, sure, but Izzy also defines much of her self-worth by how successful she’s perceived to be, both romantically and occupationally.
The movie isn’t especially good at devising either idea, though: It’s better as a family lark, indubitably because it is in the few scenes where Thompson and her girls are playing off each other that the comedy feels sharpest, the relationships and characters lived-in.
Still, Madelyn’s writing chops are clear-cut, if sporadically at their pinnacle — she slips in catchphrases from her personal lexicon with ease — and Thompson has a knack for staging this sort of comedy-drama. Zoey is always a welcome presence. The film isn’t “spectacular” in the way its eponymous line-up of men putatively is. In moments, though, it can be.
he Year of Spectacular Men (2018), the directorial debut of the actress Lea Thompson, is an intimate project. It was written by, and stars, her oldest daughter, Madelyn Deutch, who is 27. Helping round out the ensemble is Thompson youngest child, and Madelyn’s baby sister, the 23-year-old Zoey. The latter’s ex, the erstwhile Victorious (2010-2013) star Avan Jogia, whom Zoey dated for five years, also gets a leading
oey Deutch has had a busy last couple of years. Between 2016 and 2018, she’s appeared in no less than 12 movies; she will make her producing debut via Buffaloed, a dramedy directed by Tanya Wexler in which she will also star, next year. When an actress is this active, it’s inevitable that some of the taken-on projects live up to the “dud” sobriquet. One of the less fortunate is Flower (2018), a coming-of-age story so doughty and eager-
to-offend it practically implores we say “damn, this is edgy!” after its Lolita-esque heroine gets herself into more trouble.
Yet Flower is an intriguing, even fitfully successful, dud. Its introductory act, though blighted with politics that ring unpleasantly even by prickly gallows comedy standards, is laugh-out-loud funny; its protagonist, a younger cousin of the exhausting Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope of a character, is a likably messy sprite.
The film circles around an immoral 17-year-old girl named Erica (Deutch), who lives with a perpetually lost (pneumatically, I mean) mother (Kathryn Hahn) and who spends a lot of her free time giving head to much-older men and then blackmailing them into financially compensating her once she’s finished. (The film opens with her blowing a police officer in the front seat of his patrol vehicle.)
Toward the middle of the first act, Erica’s shenanigans are interrupted when she discovers that Mom’s boyfriend (Tim Heidecker) and his son Luke (Joey Morgan), who has recently been released from rehab, will be coming to live with them. Erica won’t have it: she likes the home dynamic too much. Just watching the paunchy Luke and her to-be-stepdad walk to the car from the center, then, sickens her. “Junkies are supposed to be skinny!” she exclaims, desperate to persuade her mom that all of this is bananas.
Nonetheless, Erica comes to take a liking to Luke, who’s a little intense (during their first meal together, he breaks a water glass by squeezing too hard) but is genuine and, seemingly, smart. Things change, though, when he eventually intimates that part of his perpetual angst stems from his presumably being molested when he was younger, by a teacher named Will (Adam Scott).
Upon hearing this, Erica turns into her very own vigilante. What if she, like, did the usual seduce-then-blackmail routine? Only, instead of blackmailing Will, she plain and simply called the cops and got the guy arrested for again abusing a kid? Seems a little batty and risky, but she’s dead serious. Even Luke, who’d prefer she not step in, can’t stop her. "Shaking down a child molester is our moral obligation," she tells him, along with a cabal of friends during a quasi-stakeout. "If we don't act now, then other little boys might get butt-raped like little Lukey over here.” Nothing, of course, will pan out as planned. Perhaps “planned” is more like it.
Flower, co-written and directed by Max “Son of Henry” Winkler, is at first just knowingly absurd enough to make the Poison Ivy (1992)-cum-Heathers (1988)-style transgressive comedy work. (Though it has been, I think, fairly accused of being disconcertingly fascinated with Erica’s sexuality, and billing her behavior “quirky” rather than troubling.) Just as we begin getting used to the truth that Flower was probably supposed to be a balls-to-the-wall, trenchantly offensive coming-of-age sex-comedy where everyone’s a redoubtably unethical imbecile, it swerves so dramatically (I’m talking fatality-dark) that it ends up getting lost in a fog of tonal confusion, never to arrive at a clearing.
The premise, which was already pretty exploitative and dour, becomes not only too-resolutely so but also mystifyingly so, with an expired sprinkling-in of a synchronized quarter-life-crisis-slash-lovers-on-the-run sensibility. As it goes with every film of which she’s a part, though, Deutch proves that even the paltriest of material can’t scratch her lustrous, escalating star power. Here, she’s playing a despicable caricature, and yet she uncovers a convincing humanity screenwriting team Winkler, Alex McAulay, and Matt Spicer barely include in the screenplay. She’s a rare bird.
The Year of Spectacular Men: C+