The Last Jedi is a Messy Masterpiece
It’s not unfair to say that this year’s summer blockbuster fare has been relatively underwhelming, with relatively few films really deserving much thought after the initial viewing (if they even deserved said viewing). So the idea that true cinematic quality can be found in a smaller, less conspicuous movie (from Sundance, no less) is probably not very surprising.
In other words, this is not the first summer where the best film to come out is an indie movie, nor will it be the last. However, to say that James Ponsoldt’s “The Spectacular Now” is the best film of the summer, or even the year so far, is a tremendous understatement. It would be more apt to say that this is among the best coming-of-age films ever made (and while this is only my third review here, I assure you “ever made” is not a phrase I use lightly).
The plot is deceptively innocent, and in the wrong hands could have amounted to a cynical raunchy comedy or, worse, a straight-to-tv movie. The premise is simply that a young man, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), has been dumped by his girlfriend in his senior year of high school, which is supposed to be the best year of his life. A partier, class clown, and all-around hedonist, Sutter takes an interest in Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), a shy, reserved, and studious young girl, and the two embark on a friendship that blossoms into romance.
Naturally, the romantic comedy of the popular boy who becomes involved with the unpopular girl is not an original one, but it becomes clear very quickly that, although incredibly sweet, and often hilarious, this is not a romantic comedy. It is, instead an incredibly poignant, and heartbreaking, character study of a young man who was made to be the perfect teenager, but may have a hard life ahead of him as an adult.
Before long, we learn that Aimee is an incredibly intelligent young woman with a bright future; a future that may be put in jeopardy by her relationship with Sutter, who is beginning to realize he has spent so much time living each day like it’s his last, that he has forgotten to prepare for the life ahead of him. More worrisome, it soon becomes clear that his poor relationship with his family (not to mention his beverages) might be worse than a quirky character trait, and as his idyllic life begins to fall apart, he realizes that he could easily bring Aimee down with him if he’s not careful.
The film is, to put it simply, beautiful in every way. The characters are universally human and lovable, thanks in no small part to award-worthy performances from it’s two leads, as well as supporting performances by Brie Larson and Kyle Chandler, as Sutter’s estranged ex girlfriend and estranged ex-father, respectively. It is not always a comfortable film, but it is rich in emotion and character, and captures the terrifying, awkward final days of the teenage years better than almost any film I’ve ever seen. It deserves to be watched.