Weekend Preview: A “Spectacular” Teen Movie is Another Great Summer Indie


I’ve written several times here that I think this has been a particularly weak summer for big-budget extravaganzas, and a particularly great one for indies. Films like “Blue Jasmine,” “Before Midnight,” “Frances Ha,” “Fruitvale Station,” and more. Even lesser picks like “The Way, Way Back” or “The East” is still worthy of mention.

“The Spectacular Now” is another, a smart, subtle, emotionally involving film with two stellar lead performances from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. It’s now playing at the Eastern Hills Mall, and I can tell you its high level of praise from Sundance to now is not unwarranted.

It’s the third film directed by James Ponsoldt, the follow-up to his solid alcoholism drama “Smashed.” (His first was the Nick Nolte-starring “Off the Black.”) “Smashed” was undeniably well-made, but never quite grabbed me. “The Spectacular Now” is his strongest work yet, and much of that is thanks to the performances of his two stars.

This is not surprising; Teller stole the dour Nicole Kidman drama “Rabbit Hole,” while Woodley gave the best performance in “The Descendants.” Here, playing a funny-cool, alcohol-guzzling high-schooler and the shy girl who wins his heart, respectively, they are just right.

It’s easy to underrate a film like this (and to overrate it). When I initially left the theater, I considered it a fine, entertaining teen movie. But the more I ponder, the more I think “The Spectacular Now,” like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” pulls off two very difficult things: it is utterly believable, and it does not talk down to its audience.

There are great supporting performances from “Smashed” star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the great Jennifer Jason Leigh, a dazed Kyle Chandler, the lovely Brie Larson, and “Mr. Show”’s Bob Odenkirk (!), but this film belongs to Teller and Woodley.

The duo, and director Ponsoldt, have brought the summer to a lovely close. (I’d go 3 ½ stars.) Check out Ponsoldt’s very cool countdown of the best coming-of-age films here.

The other entries at the box office are typically eclectic. The horror film “You’re Next” has built great buzz, and I imagine it will join “The Conjuring” as an inexpensive summer hit.

I reviewed the long-awaited third film from Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright, “The World’s End,” for the Buffalo News, and found it a very good — and almost great — picture. As I put it in my review, which I’ll post here soon:

“For the first 40 minutes or so, ‘The World’s End,’ the third collaboration between U.K. director Edgar Wright and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is a bold, funny, downright insightful film about that horror of horrors: getting old.”

It remains entertaining and fun, but it abandons what I loved about the opening for a killer robot/alien invasion subplot. Still, it’s a worthy third outing for the trio.

It might make me sound old, but I have no idea what “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is. I’ve seen some ads. I’ve seen some posters. But I can’t tell you what it is, because I have absolutely no idea.

A video on demand note: David Lowery’s acclaimed “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” starring Rooney Mara (swoon), Casey Affleck, and Ben Foster, comes to VOD today. Along with “The Spectacular Now,” it was one of the most acclaimed films at Sundance 2013, and I can’t wait to watch it.

Earlier this week I talked about Marilyn Monroe, and BPAC’s “Misfits” screening. Now, you can experience her brush with WNY, “Niagara,” as tonight, tomorrow, and also on August 28, 30, 31, and September 1, The Screening Room celebrates the film’s 60th anniversary with 7:30 screenings.

Meanwhile, Bacchus goes Bond with “Skyfall” on Wednesday (August 28) and the UB North Campus closes its summer session with “The Great Gatsby” tonight. South Campus is all wrapped up.

Next week, I’ll discuss the Buffalo Film Seminars’ fall 2013 schedule in its entirety, but note that the series kicks off on Tuesday (August 27) with 1927’s “The Jazz Singer.” I don’t need to tell you what that is, correct? Good.

And note that next Friday sees the Buffalo opening of Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster.” I’ll be there.

Photo: Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in “The Spectacular Now”; courtesy of A24 

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