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The Spectacular Now (2013)
James Ponsoldt, USA

On the surface, a movie like The Spectacular Now feels like the typical romantic drama made for a young adult audience. It's got (then) up-and-coming millennials Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in starring roles, features most of the expected high school themed story arcs, and even throws in a tone of seriousness to its characterizations that meet the criteria of any coming of age tale. But despite getting all these checkboxes marked off, The Spectacular Now feels refreshingly original and doesn't fall into that stereotype ditch that it digs for itself on paper. And Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber's screenplay deserves much credit here, particularly because the dialogue feels real and genuine. It's essentially mumblecore with a younger crowd, which doesn't sound all that impressive or original, but how often does that actually happen in a young adult feature film? You get this kind of dialogue from younger characters when they serve supporting roles in a typical indie drama, but not when they're the central characters in a movie. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller both give amazing performances here, and their delivery of the aforementioned dialogue is spot on. The degree of nuance in their banter and verbal exchanges are heartfelt and subtle, and you just can't help but root for these imperfect characters. I guess it's always a pleasant surprise when you walk into a genre-leaning film, and get something that completely knocks down your expectations. The Spectacular Now tackles the experience of finishing high school in a serious way, and doesn't patronize its characters or the audience by dumbing down what it's like to grow up. It's almost as if this was a young adult movie made for an adult audience, and that's not something we get too often.

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