Friday, February 14, 2014

Short Takes: The Spectacular Now, Smashed, and More

Like Crazy (dir. Drake Doremus, 2011)

The most important thing that any romantic film should do is make the audience care about the central couple, not just as a unit but also as individuals. In Like Crazy, students Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin) fall in love after sharing a class, but find their relationship strained when Anna, who is British, can't get a visa to return to the United States. Unfortunately, the film fails in making the audience care. The performances of the two leads are great, particularly Jones, who plays Anna's confusion and desire realistically and beautifully. The problem is in the storytelling: the film jumps from one moment to the next, showing us the two of them together but never really getting down to why they are together nor why they should be together in the first place. The result is a film that desperately wants to be loved, but never provides a reason why it should be. C+

Smashed (dir. James Ponsoldt, 2012)

Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) have a relationship based on three things: music, fun, and copious amounts of alcohol. However, when Kate realizes that her drinking is getting out of control and attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, their relationship becomes significantly strained. Winstead completely owns the film, and her performance is nothing short of remarkable as she oscillates between uneasy sobriety and devastating drunkenness, all while struggling to find the means to put her life together and the consequences that come with responsibility. The film as a whole is a stunning examination of what it means to overcome addiction, and it presents Ponsoldt as a filmmaker to watch and Winstead an actress worthy of great roles. A-

Short Term 12 (dir. Destin Cretton, 2013)

What an incredibly beautiful movie Short Term 12 is. Grace (Brie Larson) is an incredibly guarded employee at a care facility for foster children, navigating the difficult challenge of helping these kids while maintaining a healthy relationship with her boyfriend (John Gallagher Jr.). Larson is unbelievable in the role-of-a-lifetime, showcasing a remarkable talent with one of the most affecting performances of the year. In supporting roles, Keith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever are equally great as a quiet charge about to turn 18 and an abrasive new addition, respectively. What makes this movie so special, though, is how Cretton keeps his hands off the story, letting his characters blossom and never passing judgment on their decisions. It's a heartbreaking, life-affirming film. A+

The Spectacular Now (dir. James Ponsoldt, 2013)

So how do you follow up a emotionally volatile indie about recovery from addiction? Enter The Spectacular Now, Ponsoldt's follow-up to Smashed and a coming-of-age tale from the writers of (500) Days of Summer. Sutter (Miles Teller) is a self-made popular kid in high school who's a tad too reliant on alcohol (a running theme in Ponsoldt's work thus far), who begins helping friendly smart girl Aimee (Shailene Woodley) with her paper route and, of course, falling for her. The film transcends many of the cliches of coming-of-age tales by making these characters emotionally rich and grounded in painful reality. In fact, that may be what the film captures best: how emotionally painful adolescence can be, whether it's romantic relationships or the realization of what kind of people your parents really are. Kyle Chandler makes a brief, devastating appearance as Sutter's absent father, and Brie Larson appears as Sutter's ex-girlfriend. But this film belongs to Teller and Woodley, both of them doing incredible work that cements their status as some of the top up-and-coming actors today. A-

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