Before Miles Teller suicided his career by starring in the Fantastic Four, and then talking himself out of a job on LaLa Land, he was widely considered to be the Next Big Thing. Whiplash cemented that feeling, but the ball got rolling on this little snoozey indie teen drama in 2013.
Teen indie dramas are about as original and enjoyable as Vienna sausages. They follow predictable, highly unpalatable arcs where two young lovers court, fall in love, fall out and then realize something powerful and superficial about life, such as the importance of seizing the day, following your dreams, being true to yourself. The list of cliches goes on. So if you want to make one that stands out, either you have to do something really daring with the plot (like having one of the leads turn out to be a serial killer), or the actors need to bring something really special.
This film is entirely carried by the actors, with Teller playing a charismatic but troubled doofus who is rather charming in his shamelessness about his doofery, and Shailene Woodley playing his bookish love interest who gets drawn out of her shell only to be crushed like a sea turtle scampering for the waves on Beach Day. They are both really good, with Woodley bringing a kind of under-stated charm and vulnerability to her part, but Teller is the stand-out. This was widely believed to be his star-making turn in Hollywood, and it’s easy to see why. He has that “It” factor, a certain screen presence and casual confidence that he carries around like a part of his body.
It’s probably what makes him an asshole in real life, but it also makes him pretty compelling to watch on screen. And I liked how the movie was very open about what an unabashed jerk he was, bumbling through life swigging from a flask like an old groundskeeper, careless and pretty OK with that carelessness, and just content to charm his way out of any situation. The courtship segment is the best part of the film, because these two people who obviously are not suited for each other start to fall in love and that is a really interesting dynamic to watch. The best scene is the one near the lake where a long tracking shot has them casually flirting in a very naturalistic way, punctuated by a kiss and some really top-notch acting. It’s just a great scene.
Then, the movie falls apart. This director is apparently a fan of Prohibition, as he gives this 18-year-old a massively serious drinking problem, so much so that it was kind of funny watching him sneak drinks in the same way my 60-year-old uncle does. But then the movie does the stupid thing of burdening him with a redemptive character arc, of forcing him to hurt the poor sweet girl’s feelings only so he can realize he is THROWING HIS LIFE AWAY DO YOU HEAR ME SON!, that he is desperately afraid of becoming the burnout alcoholic loser that his father is, and that now, this spectacular now, is the time to live, and that the rest of life is full of nows, until they become laters, so don’t let your nows slip away. Because Later is Not Now. That should have been the title of the movie.
Anyway, that shit is fucking lame and it ruined a perfectly good movie! Why not just let him bumble through life? Why does everyone always have to start somewhere in a film, and then end up somewhere else after having the stupidest, most artificial epiphany you can imagine? Why does no one seem to notice this kid is carrying a flask around in his back pocket like Norman Mailer? There are just so many things this movie was doing right, only to fold up into a little pile of formulaic garbage.
Also in this movie - Brie Larson!