Category: Adolescence

Backtrack Cinema

The Spectacular Now

Every once in a while, a moving asseveration comes barreling your way through the routines of diurnal life. In my case, yesterday’s unexpectedly stirring experience resulted from a long chain of quotidian events. Forgoing my usual desire to remain bedridden until 10 a.m., it all began with a sudden spurt of productivity at 7:30 in the morning. Hopping out of bed with a vigor my body hasn’t demonstrated since Saint Nick still existed, I got right down to business and washed the sand-steeped vestments that comprised my suitcase while vacationing at Newport beach, entered a juried gallery exhibition on the subject of portraiture, conducted an array of business calls that my indolent-self would have delayed, safeguarded my bank accounts against the Target hacking fiasco, rendezvoused at the grocery store, and ventured to Victoria’s Secret to exchange a blind pity buy I’d made after receiving word that Steve Job’s infantry of Geniuses couldn’t salvage my fried laptop. Because my newfound productivity was so potent, I then decided to take up my neglected hobby of drawing for the first time since completing a festively gruesome Christmas gift that parodied The Walking Dead. Avid illustration led to a late night of BBC mysteries, and watching Mark Williams of Mr. Weasley fame merge Catholic priesthood with amateur sleuthing soon segued into one of OPB’s film critic programs. Thus, at the very end of my long day, it was this adventitious sequence of causality that ultimately introduced me to The Spectacular Now.

I had never heard of The Spectacular Now before, but with my detachment from zeitgeist culture that hardly comes as a surprise. After conducting some curiosity-fueled research and interrogating my movie database boyfriend, I learned that the film’s reception had deemed it “a slightly better than average coming-of-age film.” This response, coupled with the OPB critics’ repeated comparisons to The Way Way Back (a story that only cultivated grins and furrowed brows as it strove for profoundness), made me question whether The Spectacular Now was actually worthwhile. But when restlessness prompted me to watch it at 2 a.m., I was pleasantly surprised by a genuinely resonant narrative: one of those rare, arresting movie experiences that we’re lucky to encounter in a film era where unoriginality runs rampant amidst an endless procession of sequels and remakes.

As its average reception suggests, The Spectacular Now isn’t for everybody, and anyone whose stomach turns at the thought of teenage insecurities, judgment calls, and hormones would be wise to avoid this film. Considering my personal retrospection on the roller coaster that commences at thirteen and keeps you dipping and diving until you’re twenty, I regarded The Spectacular Now as one of the most honest film depictions of teenage sentiment I’ve seen to date, and was very grateful that someone finally endeavored to do it right.

The film starts out in typical teen-flick fashion à la She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. Our protagonist Sutter Keely serves as both a party animal and wounded recipient of a recent break-up, two stereotypes that pervade the coming-of-age genre for their existing veracity. As the diegesis advances, Sutter’s preoccupation with his ex is gradually sidelined by an interest in his humble classmate Aimee Finecky. While the OPB critics dubbed Aimee “the quiet girl,” I would argue that the original author and screen adapter devised a character refreshingly atypical of Hollywood’s teenage pigeonholes. From my perspective, Aimee straddled the archetypal barrier between solitary academia and the whim to experience new phenomena, just as a real teenager exhibits contradictory mannerisms. Not to mention, it was nice to see a character who laughed her way through her dialogue just as persistently as I laughed my way through my entire institutionalized education. Once Sutter and Aimee’s courtship comes to fruition, the film turns to examine another relationship, that of our main character and his absentee father. Subsequently, we witness an estranged 18-year-old become increasingly entrenched in the pathos of inherited alcoholism, subject his relationships to an utter disdain for the future, and ultimately face the crux of how to approach the “now.”

The plot is no revolutionary tour de force by any stretch of the imagination, but the way in which the filmmakers divulge this prosaic concept is immensely effective. The critics discussing the film remarked that cinematic analyses of teenage experience are becoming more frank and relatable, citing The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an exemplary character study. In my opinion, The Spectacular Now takes human verisimilitude to a whole new level by evading the flawlessness coveted in celebrities like Logan Lerman and Emma Watson and instead presenting a cast that looks so natural you might as well be watching a documentary. The last time I was this impressed by the film industry’s stab at reality was when the latest Star Trek franchise allowed Chris Pine’s pockmarked complexion to fill screens in high definition. But even then they had Pine’s pre-established sex appeal to justify such tight cinematography. In The Spectacular Now, makeup was mostly foregone in surrender to the Georgia heat that would have melted it off, and in an uncommon scenario, we’re free to scrutinize scars, pores, double chins, and ultimately the unique beauty of real human visages.

It is this visual candor and the equally credible performances by the film’s principal actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley that result in a tangible, recollective look at youth. It’s a shame that my first exposure to Woodley was the trailer for Divergent, in which we’re expected to believe that this unthreateningly skinny girl could aid an ass-kicking insurgent squad while decked out in false eyelashes and thick slabs of concealer befitting children’s beauty pageants and the aging Southern belles who “jog” Forsyth park in hot pink sweatsuits and teased up-dos. If my familiarity with The Spectacular Now had preceded said trailer, I could have saved myself some initial cynicism, revering Woodley as a thoroughly endearing actress whose conjunction with Teller’s charisma yields palpable on-screen chemistry.

Fortunately for those of us with flighty attention spans, this is not your typical Mandy Moore and Shane West love story. True to its sense of authenticity, Sutter’s newfound feelings for Aimee don’t drastically alter his character, and their relationship is periodically marred by an ongoing reverence for his former girlfriend and the assertive asides he makes to a buddy that he’s “just giving this girl a first boyfriend experience.” Where Aimee’s concerned, it broke my heart to watch her fall victim to the rapid stages of First Serious Boyfriend Syndrome, an ailment that can be very detrimental if the first serious boyfriend is emotionally unavailable, infatuated with a previous girlfriend, and prone to abusive behaviors inherited by no fault of his own, all of which define my first serious relationship to a T and serve as further evidence of this film’s cathartic impact.

Examining The Spectacular Now from a critical perspective, there were a few sensationalistic scenes that took me out of the otherwise pragmatic depiction of adolescence. And don’t worry parents, not all senior girls who become helplessly besotted with the school’s resident Bacchus start taking casual swigs from engraved flasks. I also have to admit that some of the dialogue was a bit trite, but overall these clichés reinforce the fact that the characters are in the awkward throes of high school, a period where mentally engaging conversation is few and far in between. Despite this minor limitation, every moment of teenage discomfort, joviality, and sorrow is illustrated perfectly, reinforcing the fact that high school truly is a lodestone for insecurities, superficial behaviors, and the drive to find your personal definition amidst a throng of amorphous identities. Comparably, my own high school experience was riddled with self-centered ephemera and laughably awkward anecdotes, such as the many times I was seated behind one of my boyfriends in Advanced Algebra II and found myself repulsed by the fact that his hands looked like rubber whenever they lay motionless on the desk before him. Or the way I consistently vacillated between extremely loud, obnoxious tomfoolery and respectfully silent and diligent studiousness. I even used to pour serious effort into keeping my eyes wide open at all times to reap compliments about how attractively large my peepers were, and can clearly remember the day I opened my eyelids to their natural resting position and thought to myself, “Why does this feel strangely comfortable?” Lastly, I would be remiss to exclude the hilarious occasion on which I finally succeeded in ensnaring a crush of many months by taking him on a date in my dad’s wholly unsexy Astro Van.

The fact that The Spectacular Now transported me back to the emotions of youth and evoked so many parallel memories speaks to its powerful effectiveness. In striving for an organic ambience, this film melds the universally visceral experience of growing up and harboring raw feelings for others with a very personal story about the perceived absence of love. Not only does the visible heat of the Georgia landscape appeal to my personal ideologue of living in Savannah, but the many dimensions the filmmakers have imbued in their characters allow you to identify with, or become engrossed in, or harbor sympathy for the candid nature of human experience. It’s not often that I see myself, my former boyfriends, and my high school cohort reflected so frankly through the frames of a film, but thanks to the detailed attention paid to actuality, The Spectacular Now proved to be quite the sincere and poignant mirror.

Advertisements

The Spiritual Rekindling of My Inner Adolescent Boy

The Spiritual Rekindling of My Inner Adolescent Boy

This past Tuesday, I was inducted into the Sherman Alexie fan club immediately after reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in five and a half hours. I would have finished all 230 pages of youthfully large font sooner if I hadn’t uncontrollably sobbed my way through the first third of the book, variable pockets of the middle, and a large portion of the end, pausing every four minutes to reread Alexie’s poignant and deeply affecting prose over again through fresh bouts of blinding tears.

Best book I have read to date. And it’s meant for fourteen year olds.

I have never wept so hard and so consistently through any story I’ve ever read or borne witness to, and I have tear ducts that start welling at the mere mention of “Pixar.” When the devoted mother in Mrs. Weasley surged forth and reaped its murderous revenge on Bellatrix Lestrange, the dormant, wannabe mom in me bawled in empathy even though I haven’t the slightest idea what it actually feels like to protect your children, and when Joey the title character of War Horse pummeled his way through barbed wire in a mad frenzy, I think I actually pleaded with my dad’s TV, begging it to stop the torture in spite of my disinterest with horse stories ever since Black Beauty stopped awing me at six. But somehow, Sherman Alexie’s first novel intended for young adults trumped the hordes of tear-jerkers from my past.

Despite the incessant blinking I had to engage in just to read through the overactive floodgates that anatomy classes would have you believe are eyes, The Absolutely True Diary wasn’t depressing. Instead, it was life affirming, educational, and cathartic in the sense that it exhumed relatable pain from your own past, even if you’d never endured anything so tragic as the young protagonist. It was hopeful, cunning, and refreshingly frank in the ways that every teenage novel should be: eradicating the censorship a Young Adult sticker generally necessitates. It was inspiring, yet eye-openingly devastating, and it was a read that made me fall so head-over-heels in love with the voice of youth, the notion of community, and the responsibilities of an inherently nomadic soul, that I want to return to my former career as a middle school art teacher and dole out this book as a more effective creative tool than any splayed paint brush or hand full of quick-dry clay.

I really, really needed Arnold Spirit Jr., the main character, in this uncertain chapter of my life, and I thank my mom (and the committee that surprisingly allowed her to read this book with her summer school students) for telling me during a phone conversation that this was the next book I needed to read, ignoring my question of “Why?” with the same mysterious elusiveness my parents always employ when they know seeking the answers for ourselves will be more beneficial in the long run.

Having finished this charming novel, I feel revitalized. I feel inspired. And without giving anything away, I feel that others should place library holds on this gem with the same sense of obliviously piqued curiosity that I did. I promise, whether you’re just entering the throes of puberty or registering as a methuselah at your local DMV, this book is well worth the read. Now off I go to spend what few precious, apartment rent-destined dollars I have on a written account that truly matters.

Heartbreak Motel

Tautology

My friend Mark recently notified me that Xanga, the online hospice for attention-seeking preteens and angst-driven high schoolers, has finally come to terms with its fiscal and technological fossilization and is shutting down tomorrow unless it fulfills the last two-thirds of its staggering resuscitation quota by some miracle of God. The last time I thought about my Xanga blog was when I suddenly felt impelled to create this WordPress account, but in that instance I merely pondered the medium of blogging itself–not the content of my diaristic teenage rants and ramblings. Now that I’m faced with an actual expiration date, I figured my old Xanga deserved a parting once-over.

As soon as the adolescent memories started amassing, I realized revisiting three out of the innumerable blog posts was enough for me. Present-day critics certainly aren’t kidding when they joke about Xanga’s cultivation of the malaise. While I usually entertained my small but loyal cohort of subscribers with a hyperactive sense of humor that has since evolved, there are a couple blog entries that augment the Xanga standard for emotional harangues. Some of these vociferations probably revolve around my father’s neurotic girlfriend at the time, but most irrefutably deal with the boys of my past. For instance, in one entry I spend a paragraph listing off my relationship standings with 23 guy friends, exes, and past crushes–the majority of whom I have absolutely no memory of (Straight Ryan and Gay Ryan? Sebastian #5629? Skunk Boy!?). To make matters more difficult, I speak in a cryptically metaphoric manner that only close friends could have decoded back in 2006. Flash forward to what I assumed were my greater mental faculties of 2013, and I have no idea what in Buddha’s name I was babbling on about.

One thing I do remember with clarity, however, is a pastime documented in an entry dated Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006; an entry that describes a breakup with a former boyfriend in morose detail.

When I was growing up, I never confined myself to a single clique, floating instead from each stereotyped social circle with ease thanks to my fluid label of “artist.” Apparently, this liminal nature translated to the host of guys who came courting, because my boyfriends of school years past were quite the archetypal medley. Amidst this collection was the indie musician who started my high school dating life with disturbingly long, 70s tresses and reappeared years later to culminate high school with a hackneyed Portland beard; the pseudo-gothic, punk kid whose attraction to me apparently emanated from my obvious “innocence” and probably contributed to his recent conversion to born-again Christianity; the multicultural cross-country athlete who barely said a word to me the entire time we dated and puked at my feet whenever I tried to congratulate him after a race; the visually-deceptive hyper-nerd who built his own iPad from scratch and intended to revolutionize Lexus sound wave technology via his favorite overused phrase of “frequencies;” the budding politician who at 6’8″ would tower over the competition but ultimately make one of the most lethargic congressmen ever elected; and an array of flings so obsolete as to nullify explanation.

Primary source caricatures from 2006!

What most of the aforementioned disparate characters had in common (besides their initial gravitation towards a giggly, teenage girl with dyed gold hair and hurdling bruises) was that they fell prey to a cruel trend I seemed unable to shake back in those days: my propensity for dumping guys after a mere three weeks of dating. I suppose I was something of an unbreakable foal back in those days, my head too high in the clouds to find any value in menial high school relationships and my young predilections too fickle to be anchored to any one commitment for long. It wasn’t that I was completely inhumane though: in the November Xanga entry where I describe my breakup with the taciturn athlete (who finally mustered up a response when he punched a locker in anger and went on to compose several songs that anathematized my name and garnered meager local fame), my compunction and sorrow is apparent and I vividly recall succumbing to the romcom cliché of lamenting each separation with a fresh crop of tears.

In retrospect, however, I can’t help but muse that some transcendental Moon intuition was at play every time I said my adieus on the 21st day of a relationship. After all, years of rumination and introspection have asserted that every single one of those beaus was not a good union by Matchmaker Yente’s criterion. It was only when I went against the three-week benchmark and reconnected with my first high school boyfriend that the whiplash of retribution catalyzed a new chapter of my dating life, resulting in one of the most harrowing experiences of my youth and teaching me a life-altering lesson in recuperation and self-perseverance.

Today, as I look back on those first three Xanga posts, mulling over the irony that three is still the biggest number I can stomach, I can’t help but feel a sense of peaceful detachment. While it’s a fascinating study in human maturation, reading the words of a young girl with an entirely different outlook on life, a slew of petty relationships in her past, and no suspicion of the interpersonal bliss she’d accidentally discover junior year of college, merely reminds me of a bygone longing for something I wouldn’t let myself enjoy. Ultimately, I have little desire to salvage that conflicted teenage voice. So go ahead Xanga, the times have changed, that girl with the fickle temperament has grown a whole new conscience and her three-week dispensation has long since found a new naïve host; guess it’s about time to let the online record go the same way my noncommittal past went.

What to Write When You’re a Notoriously Defunct Writer

In my youth, I was what one might call a prolific writer: a kid whose bespectacled eyes were permanently glued to the hulking cube of a PC under the stairs, fingers zipping across the keyboard for hours in an improper, self-taught typing technique. I was such a literary zealot that not only can those bespectacled eyes be blamed on my incessant proximity to a glowing LED monitor, but I had a fan-fiction that spanned 200,000 words in 58 chapters, and had garnered a fan base of 320 similarly bespectacled adolescent computer-mongers. The only problem with this Homerian epic and the six original books I succumbed to myopia for, was that chapter 58 was the preclude to the last chapter, and the last chapter never came…

So what was it that overtook the celebrated child author who many writing forum patrons knew under the immature moniker of Munkymuppet? How did such a promising wordsmith’s skills encounter the second coming of the Cretaceous period  and peter out with the same expiry flair as the dinosaurs?

It was junior year of high school that witnessed the last rapidly typed production of anything other than academic essays, dissertations, and artist statements; and the culprit? International Baccalaureate.

At the time, fan-fictions were a thing of the hormonal, middle school acolyte past and I was onto my next kick: a gruesome thriller fueled by a love for high-octane action stories that would gradually dissipate as I increasingly aged into my cringe-prone mother. I was on chapter 21, the mystery was unraveling, the villains were amassing, and the action was building toward a climax with nerve-wracking rapidity, when suddenly International Baccalaureate–the global and more taxing version of high school honors–amped up the stress levels to 300% and succeeded in expunging any and every drive for creative writing. Although the IB gods mercifully spared my penchant for visual arts (allowing me to attend a widely reputed art school and inhume myself in asphyxiating debt for the next seventy years), any sense of personal motivation to put pen to pad has been wiped clean ever since.

To this day, the creative writing skills that hoards of teachers once praised as “years ahead in maturation” are nothing more than a desert whose cacti might proffer up one or two pages of liquid inspiration every six months, resulting in 27 one to two page stories that are still sitting on a digital shelf, gathering pixelated dust while they wait to be revisited. But with this history teeming with burgeoning novels, short stories, contemplated screenplays, a heavily trafficked Xanga and three consistently updated Blogspots, writing is clearly a part of my genetic code and can assume substantial responsibility for producing the verbose, imaginative adult I am today. Thus, I think it’s time to really put some effort into climbing back into that ballpoint pen-laden saddle, no matter how nervous that mercurial horse might make me.

So with WordPress as my accomplice and a temperamental internet connection as my medium, here it goes: Operation Invoke the Hibernating Author Within. All I have to do is employ the wonderfully freeing purpose of a blog and talk about any subject that comes to mind–from the qualms of being a new inductee into the second biggest city in the country, to the artwork of people who inspire my creative spirit, to all those paranormal TV shows I continue to freak myself out with late at night like some sort of Stockholm syndrome enthusiast. Just make sure to WRITE. And perhaps, Allah willing, what might first feel like a daily chore may gradually resuscitate the dormant intrinsic nature that’s just waiting to be rediscovered.