James Ponsoldt directs Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson in this teen romance that sensitively explores the attraction between two mixed-up kids.
This passed me by on release but I have enjoyed all of the James Ponsoldt’s movies I have discovered this year and the cast have all become big names since. So I gave it a try… and… Wow! Filmed with a slippery magic hour brightness and a timeless sense of fashion, this is an excellent teen movie trying to evoke the subtle truths of Say Anything… and Dazed and Confused – the teen genre’s high points. It casually explores the characters to start, allowing us to be seduced by their fresh faces and warmth to each other. There’s no love at first sight thunderbolts or fake rivalry. These kids get together with faltering uncertainty, they have sex with slightly worried / slightly surprised smiles on their faces and interact with the friends and exes still orbiting around them as people rather than as stock villains created to interrupt their binary happiness. Ponsoldt, with the help of some very charismatic leads, has somehow managed to bottle the temporary, elusive smoke of what a teen relationship actually feels and looks like. And then he introduces his second theme – our quirky and confident boy has bigger issues. Hinted at throughout the first hour, his alcohol dependency hides in plain sight. Characters comment on it obliquely but he is oblivious, we rarely see him in a scene without a drink to hand, and it is only when his new love Aimee starts carrying a hip flask to school too that we begin to question how healthy his lifestyle is, for them both. The movie switches on us – we thought we were being sold on a fun guy taking a chance on falling for a shy girl romance, a Cinderella story in faded t-shirts. Instead we start to explore what Miles Teller will be when he no longer has high school as a safety net to fall into, hungover each morning. Will he straighten up and be responsible? Will he grow up and stay with the girl clearly smitten on him? And as he explores who he is and what his future looks like, the heavier drama grips and still rings true. Remarkable stuff.