Scott Nuestadter and Michael H. Weber wrote a wonderful script with (500) Days of Summer. With this film, they wrote an okay script that’s going to be wildly praised. I’ve already seen five different critics compare it to a John Hughes film, which is kind of bizarre. Sure, the lead character has a little Ferris Bueller in him (if Ferris had carried around a flask)…but it’s more of a Say Anything meets Leaving Las Vegas.
Critic Roger Ebert did a review of this a while ago, and gave it 4 out of 4 stars, which is astounding to me. The first hour deserves 4 stars. The second hour, maybe 1 ½.
Shailene Woodley, the Oscar nominee from The Descendants, again shows some fine acting chops as a plane Jane high school senior, who meets the popular party animal played by Miles Teller. He’s a great young actor as well. In the unremarkable remake of Footloose, he was great as the southern sidekick. In the teen comedy 21 and Over, he made it watchable with his charisma. As the somber kid in Rabbit Hole, he stole scenes from Nicole Kidman (who got an Oscar nomination for that); and he gave an amazing performance in this.
The film starts with Teller writing a college entrance essay, and pining for the girl that just broke up with him. Director James Ponsoldt deserves a lot of credit for making these teens seem like real high school students and not adults playing the parts (although Teller is in his mid-20s in real life). Ponsoldt shows us those awkward moments and an understanding for not just high school drama, but kids that also have problems at home. There’s perhaps the most realistic sex scene I’ve seen involving teenagers, since Jennifer Jason Leigh’s sex scenes in Fast Times at Ridgemont High; and Leigh shows up in this as Teller’s angry mom. She’s single, hardworking, and bitter over an ex-husband that isn’t in the picture. Teller also has some issues with that, and the second half of the movie delves into that with mixed results.
I did find it odd that Teller is obviously an alcoholic (you come to this realization early on), yet the word “alcoholic” is never uttered. It’s not that he wakes up on Woodley’s front yard that clues us in, but the fact that he can’t remember asking her to prom the day before. There also aren’t many high school students carrying around a flask, unless they’re planning to spike the punch at the prom.
I’m not sure the pacing of this movie will work for teen viewers that ate up The Perks of Being a Wallflower (or should be seeing this years The Way, Way Back). As powerful as the scenes are with the absentee father (a great Kyle Chandler), the film flounders in the second half. It’s a much more interesting picture when you’re dealing with high school kids trying to figure the world out. For example, Teller’s ex-girlfriend starts dating the football star. He shows up at Teller’s work angry about the two having a previous night together he somehow found out about. Teller quickly talks his way out of it and charms this guy. The football player thanks him, and expresses anger at how he can’t be funny or make her like him the way she did Teller. It’s a well written scene.
Another scene involves the boss at the tie shop Teller works at. He expresses concern over Teller showing up loaded. He says, “If I were your dad, this is where I’d give you a lecture.” Teller responds, “If you were my dad, you wouldn’t have to.”
It’s a brilliant scene that broke my heart.
A few other scenes were supposed to pack a punch and didn’t. One of those involves Sutter alone at his graduation (it was powerful when Richard Gere was alone at his in An Officer and a Gentleman).
The movie gets credit for not being a conventional teen comedy, but when it was all said and done, there just wasn’t enough in the second half of the movie to make me love it the way other critics will. I was sitting next to critic Scott Marks of the San Diego Reader. He leaned in and said “It’s The Days of Wine and Roses for 13-year-olds.”
That’s a perfect description.
The amazing performances from the cast help net this 3 stars out of 5.
INTERVIEW WITH MILES TELLER
I met actor Miles Teller at a hotel downtown to interview him about his starring role in The Spectacular Now — the well-received indie film that could possibly garner him an Oscar nomination. I saw him wrapping up his interview with my fellow crumedgeon critic Scott Marks, who told him, “Oh no. You better watch out for that guy!”
When I sat down I told Teller that as a reporter these days, most of the research we do consists of Googling a person. He laughed and said, “Yeah, I do that too. I’ve Googled all my girlfriends.”
I continued, “I saw you love the Philadelphia Eagles. I have an Eagles T-shirt that I wore when I interviewed Channing Tatum. He kept looking at it the whole time we talked and at the end of the interview he said ‘Hey man, what’s up with that shirt? Why’d you wear it?’ I said, ‘Well…your movie is called The Eagle.’ He laughed and said “That’s so weird. I completely forgot the title of the movie. I like the Dallas Cowboys and hate the Eagles, and I thought you found that out somehow and were just trying to f*** with me.’”
Teller laughed and said, “Yeah, I love the Eagles. I almost wore my Flyer’s cap today, too.”
I don’t usually start off interviews praising the actor I’m interviewing, but this young man just impresses me so much. Not only was Rabbit Hole one of my favorite films the year it came out, but he’s good in all the roles I’ve seen him in.
Josh Board: How cool was it that your first movie, you’re on screen with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart? She got an Oscar nomination for that part, and Eckhart should’ve as well. Had your part been a bit bigger, you would’ve too?
Miles Teller: Thank you. Yeah, I really was surprised Eckhart didn’t get a nomination. He really deserved it. The same thing with Diane Weist. She was great in that.
Josh Board: Oh yeah, she was. When they’re at the bowling alley and she talks about losing a child…that was powerful.
Miles Teller: She said that carrying around the pain of losing a child was like carrying around a brick. It was a great scene.
Josh Board: Perhaps the fact that she’s been nominated before, and it was a small part. You can never figure out how the Academy does that. I liked Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn, and was pleasantly surprised….
Miles Teller: …By Dominic Cooper’s performance!?
Josh Board: No. Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier. I was happy he got nominated, because he was just as good and I didn’t think he would be.
Miles Teller: That’s kind of like Michelle Williams getting nominated for Blue Valentine, and Ryan Gosling didn’t. He was great in that movie.
Josh Board: That’s a good point. I loved that and remember being bothered by that, too.
The interview you did before me was with Scott (critic at the Reader). He and I sat next to each other at The Spectacular Now, and we had a disagreement about the ending (SPOILER ALERT). He felt when you went to the college to get your girlfriend at the end, that she had become an alcoholic. I don’t think that’s what was happening. I just felt it was sort of like a Good Will Hunting ending. Your character realizes he cares about the girl, and doesn’t want to let her go. Perhaps you have cleaned up your act to get her back, but not necessarily.
Miles Teller: They left it open ended, that’s for sure; but I don’t think anything would lead you to believe she’s going to be an alcoholic. I think that my character wouldn’t have stopped drinking though. In the book, it’s a lot darker. It ends with him at a bar drinking and cutting himself. He’s using a bottle cap to cut on his arms. The film ends on a more upbeat note, but I still believe he wouldn’t be able to stop drinking and just clean himself up that quickly (SPOILER ALERT OVER)
Josh Board: We hear a lot about what actors do to prepare for a role. If they’re playing a cop, they ride along with the police for a few weeks. Sometimes we hear about De Niro gaining 40 pounds for a part. Since you were a drinker in 21 and Over and now this — did you go and up the amount of drinking you did in preparation?
Miles Teller: (laughing) No. I never did that. I’ve been drunk before, but in preparing for those roles….well, with 21 and Up I was working out a lot because I knew I was going to be in a tube sock [a scene where he and his buddy get stripped by a sorority and have to walk home across a college campus nude, except for a sock over their naughty parts]. In this movie, I was going to work out a lot for this movie because of the love scene we had. But Shailene told me not to. She thought the character should have a little pudge to him.
Josh Board: Were you nervous doing the love scene?
Miles Teller: You always want your co-star to feel comfortable. You actually get more nervous doing kissing scenes because of the way they’re filmed and all that. People can feel vulnerable. You always want your co-star to feel at ease and so you’re often just worried about things like that.
Josh Board: Yeah. I guess in love scenes, you can just wear your jeans in bed if you wanted to so it’s not as uncomfortable as people might think.
Miles Teller: I don’t! (we both laugh). They had me wear this skin colored outfit over my legs, though.
Josh Board: That makes sense. They wouldn’t want a scene being shot and you’re supposed to be making love…and we see pants. Since you were in the remake of Footloose, I have to ask — did you see the original? I always wonder if the actors watch the original and say things like ‘I can pull off what Chris Penn is doing.’ Or whatever opinions you have on how he played the character that you’re playing.
Miles Teller: I never saw it. I didn’t want to end up doing the same thing he may have done in that version. Also, if he did things that really worked well for that character, I wouldn’t want to be thinking about trying hard not to do those same thing. Either way, you’d just end up thinking about a lot of things that would be distracting. It’s easier for me to just not see that version and not worry about that. I was in that play in high school, though. So I was familiar with the story and all the characters.
Josh Board: What about watching the movies your co-stars are in? Sharlene…wait…I think I just pronounced her name wrong.
Miles Teller: Shailene. Yeah, I called her Sharlene a few times on the set just to be funny.
Josh Board: She was great in The Descendants. You both seem so natural on screen. It’s refreshing to watch younger cast members that aren’t going overboard with their acting.
Miles Teller: Thank you. Yeah, she’s a great actress.
Josh Board: In The Spectacular Now….your character obviously has a drinking problem. Yet it seems they were often subtle in dealing with it. I think that the adults would’ve been a lot more vocal about it. Other than your boss mentioning you showing up for work loaded.
Miles Teller: They do. Remember that scene where the teacher is talking to me?
Josh Board: That’s not really about your drinking, though. Perhaps he knew about your drinking, but it was more about your grades and your future. I felt like he just sensed you weren’t living up to your potential or applying yourself.
Miles Teller: There’s also that scene at the prom, where I jump on the stage and grab the microphone. You can hear people say ‘Get off the stage! Go to rehab.’ So it is addressed a little. They’re a lot more clear in the book about his drinking. It’s a first-person narrative so as he drinks, you can read the way he’s sounding as he’s drunk. It’s a lot more obvious.
Josh Board: I thought it was great that when you were drunk, it wasn’t this over-the-top character. You weren’t yelling and smashing things. It wasn’t like you were slurring all your words.
Miles Teller: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to watch myself playing a character like that. It would be weird to see this high school kid acting crazy like that. I would cringe. We talked about a lot of that in preproduction. We didn’t want to hit everyone over the head with it.