Sometime around the mid-nineties, the classic high school-set coming-of-age movie shrugged off its emotional resonance and turned into a genre marked by nonsensical dance scenes (She’s All That), poorly-adapted takes on Shakespeare plays (Get Over It), perfectly-adapted takes on Jane Austen novels (Clueless, and no, I will never apologize for my love for Clueless), cheerleader-driven narratives (Bring It On), and embarrassing outings that even James Franco wants to expunge from his resume (Whatever It Takes). Yet, slowly, the influence of such genre heroes as Cameron Crowe and John Hughes is bubbling back up, and the possibility that the real, sweet, funny, dramatic, and honest high school film isn’t dead just yet seems stronger than ever. As someone who grew up on a steady, TBS-fed diet of Crowe and Hughes films, the resurrection of the great coming-of-age production is music (Peter Gabriel, naturally) to my ears.
A recent example of the rise of the emotionally rich teen movie? The Spectacular Now, a film that I’ve thought about consistently and affectionately since catching it back in January at Sundance. In support of the upcoming theatrical release of James Ponsoldt’s Sundance favorite, Landmark Theaters (along with one Angelika in NYC and the independent Los Feliz theater in LA) have curated a special screening series that they are calling “The Spectacular Classics.” Basically, it’s a month-long screening series of classic coming-of-age films that, in one way or another, influenced the new Shailene Woodley– and Miles Teller-starring film. It sounds like a very fun event (and, let’s be honest, a great way to drum up more interest in the film), but it also got me wondering about where exactly The Spectacular Now falls on a scale that includes bonafide classics like Say Anything… and The Breakfast Club. Turns out, it’s a bit of an outlier, and in the best way possible.
Dazed and Confused
(Booze-soaked high school hijinks, fun times)
Richard Linklater’s hijinks-heavy 1976-set coming-of-age tale is the lowest man on our entirely theoretical emotional totem pole. And yet, it still endures as a classic, simply because high school hijinks haven’t really changed, not even over four decades. Yes, it’s a period piece, but it’s also entirely relatable – which is probably why Teller’s character in The Spectacular Now, Sutter Keely, a good time guy of the highest order, probably watches this one on repeat. In another life, he may well have become Wooderson, still enjoying those girls who never seem to get any older.
(Weed-soaked rock tour hijinks, fun times with emotion)
Cameron Crowe’s opus (and I say that as someone who still adores Jerry Maguire above all Crowe films) unquestionably has a lot going for it in the emotional arena, mainly because young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) forms intense bonds with a whole range of people during his musical odyssey with Stillwater. It’s not just a film about making your own family or a film about accepting your actual family or even a film about falling in love for the first time – it’s about all of that stuff.
(Music-soaked mismatched love story joy, emotional)
Of all the films on this list, The Spectacular Now most reflects the tone and aims of Crowe’s 1989 classic. Woodley’s Aimee Finicky isn’t quite Lloyd Dobler, but she is a social outlier who really likes the stuff she likes (in this case, not kickboxing, but sci-fi novels) and has a couple of close films who get her and seems entirely comfortable with just being herself. Teller’s Sutter Keely is no Diane Court – Diane Court never drank too much or partied too hard – but both Sutter and Diane are enigmas that the rest of the student body thinks they know, until they go and do something wild (like falling in love with Aimee or Lloyd). No one holds up a boombox in The Spectacular Now, but there is an essential scene in a car that makes Crowe’s sex-car-capades look emotionally shallow (okay, not really, but still).
The Breakfast Club
(Music-soaked mismatched new friends detention-set hijinks, really emotional)
If you can watch The Spectacular Now and not see a million shades of Judd Nelson’s John Bender in Sutter Keely, I worry that you haven’t actually seen The Breakfast Club.
The Spectacular Now
(Booze-soaked mismatched love story pain and joy, really goddamn emotional)
Yes, it sounds typical to the point of laughability – a high school party boy (Teller) somewhat accidentally strikes up a friendship with wallflower (Woodley) who doesn’t seem to mind that she’s never been included in any of the kind of fun her new pal has on a daily basis. They sort of fall in love. And then, maybe, they really fall in love. The twist? No one gets a goddamn makeover, and the boy isn’t just a party guy – he’s an alcoholic. No, no, he’s really an alcoholic. Instant authenticity and an immediate divorce from any She’s All That comparisons.
Want to check out “The Spectacular Classics” series? Well, you should. Or you could just try to do the whole thing at home on your own, though that would remove the unique joy of seeing John Cusack holding up a boombox on the big screen (as it was meant to be seen!).
The schedule for the screening series is as follows:
Tuesday, July 9 – Say Anything…
Tuesday, July 16 – Dazed and Confused
Tuesday, July 23 – Almost Famous
Tuesday, July 30 – The Breakfast Club
Participating theaters include:
New York – Landmark Sunshine
Los Angeles – Los Feliz
Dallas – Angelika Dallas
Boston – Kendall Square Cinema
DC – E Street Cinema
Philadelphia – Ritz Five
Chicago – Century Centre Cinema
Minneapolis – Lagoon Cinema
Seattle – Harvard Exit Theatre
Each screening will also include an exclusive video introduction from by screenwriters Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter, and all audience members will also receive a ticket to an advance word of mouth screening of The Spectacular Now (playing in their market).
The Spectacular Now opens on August 2nd.