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First Look Review - THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN

THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN review
A young woman moves in with her sister as she negotiates a series of failed relationships.







Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Lea Thompson

Starring: Madelyn Deutch, Zoey Deutch, Jesse Bradford, Cameron Monaghan, Brandon T. Jackson, Lea Thompson

THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN poster

There are few things duller, or smugger, than a happy couple. Sure, it’s fascinating for whatever fortunate pair are enjoying the initial throes of being loved up, but for the rest of us, obliged to grin along and nod gently at their tales of amorous wonder and romantic bliss, love without complication is boring. Because true romance, a mutually loving, symbiotic relationship, is only ever earned; the strongest bonds are those which weather the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The best romantic comedies (off the top of my head: Groundhog Day, Clueless, my beloved Bridesmaids) understand this simple (but universally bona fide) dynamic, transposing the quest narrative to intrinsic human emotion. The Year of Spectacular Men, with its boastful title, is an intriguing outlier: directed by actual Lea Thompson (a woman whose previous romantically inclined roles include her inadvertently attempting to have it off with her future son and shagging an actual man-duck, so maybe she knows a thing or two about unorthodox couplings), from a script by her prodigious daughter Madelyn Deutch, who also plays lead character Izzy, along with recording the (impressive) soundtrack, in a film that likewise stars another daughter (Zoey Deutch: Sabrina) and which Thompson’s real-life fella was involved with producing, too.

THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN

It’s a family affair in front of the camera as well as behind, the Deutch sisters again play siblings with Thompson fulfilling a maternal role: Sabrina is an in demand young actress, while Izzy is a lost soul whose navel gazing voiceover informs us that she "never had that moment" and is wondering "where I go next." Thompson’s mum is semi-wacky and dates women the same age as her daughter. That’s it really. Izzy is a hot mess that shags around for 12 months with a series of eligible, but equally neurotic (i.e., not that much at all, in fact) lads. The sad narrative beat that Izzy’s dad topped himself when she was little is dropped in by way of ersatz character development, but other than that it's manic pixie dream girl all the way, with back story filled out by straight to camera interviews with her various beaus interspersing the film, and which serve to basically advise us of how wonderfully quirky she is.

THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN

As Izzy and Sabrina hop about America’s most insta-ready locales (San Francisco, L.A., New York, Aspen), and the former enters into one offs/tentative relations with several suitors, the film’s attitude to sex is at least refreshingly and unashamedly positive. There is no sense of what twitter is calling ‘slut-shaming’ or suggestion that sex is being used as a placebo for existential dread (I mean, so often sex-mad characters are ultimately depicted as spiritually lacking), just sequences of shagging that are at times inelegant, energetic and occasionally disappointing (a bit like in real life, etc). And I do mean sequences: the sex scenes in The Year of Spectacular Men are extended and highly animated, so fair play for depicting the motivational crux of this narrative with such detail and conviction (perhaps I am a prude, after all, because an extra layer of awkwardness was added by the fact that a mother was directing her daughter in these reasonably realistic tableaus, with her father possible hovering about in the background - yikes!). It is quite lovely that bad sex here simply spurs Izzy on to her next partner, a positive ideology that reminds us all to never settle for less.

The issue, however, is that these sequences are never followed up with any dramatic consequence. Towards the end of the second act, Thompson’s girlfriend ends up having it off with the boyfriend of the, supposedly stable, Sabrina behind the family’s backs. Complicated! But whereas this bizarre love quadrangle would be ripe for soapy melodrama, Thompson plays the fallout as easy-going farce, with mom and daughter wailing and weeping in a hyperbolic, comedic manner. Everything works out, as you know it will. This is a blameless, benign world of escapism, where it’s always sunny, unless it’s snowing for skiing photo ops. But the balance of all effective romantic comedy involves counteracting idyllic aspiration with identifiable human emotion (these people are attractive and successful, but they have the same problems as me!), and fatally, The Year of Spectacular Men forgoes the crucial half of this dichotomy by indulging the care-free lives of these beatific, privileged characters.

THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN

The overall effect is like being trapped in a prettily lit hall of mirrors, with the phenomena of the Deutch clan reflected back at us at every turn: a sensation endorsed by how similar, and absurdly gorgeous, the female leads all look. We are told how difficult commitment is for Izzy, but her travails are demonstrated in a way that is superficial, and all surface. I mean, good for Izzy and everything, I wish her well, but slings and arrows are easy to suffer when you are outrageously fortunate: not having to hold down a job (after all, a staple of the romcom is workplace privations), jetting about to cool parties and effortlessly getting with the fellas. Even the title is disingenuous: these men are barely spectacular, they are simply pretty, and pretty ordinary to boot.



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