LA Film Festival Review: The Year of Spectacular Men is a Triple Threat Quarter Life Crisis Tale.
The Year of Spectacular Men had it’s World Premiere at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival on Friday, June 16, 2017. The film follows Izzy (Madelyn Deutch), a 20-something millennial stuck in what is commonly referred to as a quarter-life crisis. Izzy goes through phases where she becomes passionate about things but quickly loses interest. She bounces from guy to guy hoping to find a relationship that will help define her but only ends up being hurt or disappointed. In an effort to figure out what’s next, Izzy relocates to Los Angeles where she moves in with her sister Sabrina (Zoey Deutch), an actress whose career is currently on the rise.
Written by Madelyn Deutch, Produced by Howard Deutch, and Directed by Lea Thompson, The Year of Spectacular Men is a true life family affair. Not only was the Deutch family in charge of what happened behind the scenes but they are the film’s most valuable on-screen players as well. Zoey Deutch, Madelyn Deutch, and Lea Thompson take their real-life family dynamic and bring that to the big screen. The Year of Spectacular Men is a refreshing and unique indie film that examines millennial life.
I truly believe the success of the film all begins with Madelyn’s script. The story that Madelyn has written speaks not only to millennials but those of all ages. The film’s dialogue is sharply written and the characters are well-rounded. Madelyn’s social commentary is on-point and relevant. I adored the conversations about acronyms as well as the running gag about eating healthy. The script also manages to poke fun at Hollywood by taking a jab at the paparazzi and acting auditions. I laughed pretty hard at the scene where Sabrina comes home from work and Izzy asks what happened to her. Sabrina replies with “I had a car bomb shoot.” There are several jokes like this one sprinkled throughout and everyone is perfectly timed and placed.
The Year of Spectacular Men opens on Izzy and Sabrina walking through NYC while discussing their daily lives. This sequence feels a lot like a scene from one of the many great Woody Allen films of the late 1970s. The film was shot in several different locations including New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I’m mentioning the locations because I feel like there are so many films where they shoot on location but the location doesn’t add much to the story. All of the locations in this film make a statement and feel like they are part of Izzy’s journey.
When I first read the plot description for the film, I was a bit nervous that the males were going be portrayed as these one-dimensional characters. While Madelyn’s script presents most of the male characters in a comedic way, I did appreciate that each of them was shown as a real person. Whether it was Aaron (Jesse Bradford) acting like he was the perfect boyfriend or Charlie (Nicholas Braun) struggling with his own insecurities, I felt each of the male characters were portrayed as an actual person. It should also be mentioned that just like the female characters, all the men that enter and exit Izzy’s life are flawed with their own set of problems.
You can tell that Madelyn put a lot of her own life into the script. As I discussed above, every character is presented as a real person and not a caricature. I saw pieces of myself in Izzy, Sabrina, Charlie, and Aaron. As an avid film fan and critic, I can tell you that it is extremely rare when I am able to connect with multiple characters in the same film. This serves as a huge compliment to Madelyn because of how authentic and well-written these characters are. Being able to write characters that are flawed yet still make them relatable to a wide group of people is rare and one that most writers don’t succeed but Madelyn definitely did.
There are plenty of jokes throughout the film with most of the humor being dialogue driven. There is some great physical comedy as well including a few awkward sex scenes. A lot of these comedic moments, in the wrong hands, would have either gone unnoticed or become way too raunchy for their own good. Thompson’s motherly instincts may have kicked in but the way she captured the sex scenes without any nudity whatsoever was perfectly handled. These scenes were awkward and funny without being over the top or graphic. The one scene that stands out is where Izzy and Logan (Brandon T. Jackson) attempt to have sex but struggle with it. This scene is handled in such a mature way because it relied on dialogue rather than gross out humor. I tend to hate it when comedies go overboard with the raunchy stuff because it seems so cheap and easy to do. I believe Thompson had the right approach by focusing on the dialogue instead of the act itself.
The film might be called The Year of Spectacular Men but the relationship between Sabrina and Izzy is the film’s strongest attribute. I am sure that being sisters in real life helped to create their extraordinary on-screen relationship but Zoey and Madelyn are just outstanding in the film. Zoey plays Sabrina as this strong no-nonsense female character. She is very direct and has a lot of life experience. She often gets frustrated with Izzy and her careless approach to life. Izzy, on the other hand, is presented as naive and lost. She is trying to find herself but gets distracted along the way. It almost seems that Izzy is trying to follow in her sister’s footsteps but hasn’t learned that she needs to figure out her own passion and can’t copy someone else’s.
I truly loved all the moments where the film focused on Zoey and Madelyn bonding. There is a scene near the end of the film where they both lay down on the sidewalk. This scene was incredibly heartwarming and emotional because there are so many things occurring during this moment. The various scenes where Sabrina is trying to tell Izzy what she should do next felt very true to life. You can tell that Sabrina wants to stop Izzy from making mistakes and getting hurt but Izzy just doesn’t listen to anyone’s advice because she wants to live in the moment.
Zoey and Madelyn are such great actresses because they know how to approach and handle the material. I was somewhat surprised to learn that not only can Madelyn write extremely well but she can also act her heart out. Madelyn has wonderful comedic timing and hilarious facial mannerisms. She was able to be dramatic in one scene and then act totally silly in the next. Madelyn is a force to be reckoned with and that goes without question. Over the last couple of years, Zoey has grown a lot as an actress. She stole the show in Everybody Wants Some! last year as well as Before I Fall earlier this year. However, her role as Sabrina in this film is without question her finest performance to date. Zoey conveys such commitment to Madelyn’s script and pours her heart and soul into it. These sisters are some of the most talented women working in Hollywood today and I am excited to keep watching their careers grow.
I know that I have been praising the film quite a bit but I do have to point out the one minor issue that I had with the film. There are a series of interview scenes which randomly pop up throughout the film and during the end credits. These are scenes feature the men that Izzy has dated. While I understand that they are there to help build and shape Izzy as well as the other male characters, I found them to be somewhat jarring and distracting. I felt like they were out of place as there was no specific time frame as to when they would occur. It felt like the interviews were at one point supposed to be a bigger part of the story but were cut down in order to maintain a tighter runtime. I believe that cutting them out completely wouldn’t hurt and would be interested in seeing a cut of the film that didn’t have those scenes in there.
The Year of Spectacular Men is a delightful indie gem and one of the most refreshing and comedic tales about 20-somethings that I have seen in quite some time. Madelyn Deutch, Zoey Deutch, and Lea Thompon are a triple threat in this quarter-life crisis tale that deserves your attention. The Year of Spectacular Men will connect not only with millennials but fans of character-driven stories. Madelyn Deutch has officially blown me away. She is a real talent and one that I can see having a long and successful career ahead of her. If you get a chance to see The Year of Spectacular Men, do yourself a favor and check it out when the film opens in limited release on June 15, 2018.