Tagged: High School

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.

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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.

Talking ‘Bout My Girl(s)

My Girls

Growing up, I always gravitated toward male friends, assimilating into dude-dominated cliques that might have hosted one other girl, if that. For some strange adolescent reason that may have burgeoned into existence after watching one too many football games with my dad, I always felt I could relate more to men: I abhorred drama, my favorite hobby was laughing raucously at trivialities for hours on end, I could withstand a shopping mall for maybe an hour before my head started to swim, and I preferred, in male patois, to just “chill.”

I wasn’t a tomboy by any stretch of the imagination though. Sure, a Ukrainian woman with an indiscernible accent completely ignored my reference image and cut my hair so short it barely met my ears, producing a masculine visage that one of my fifth grade peers mistook for the ragged coiffure of a bully. And yes, there was that identical incident freshman year of high school when a Laotian hairstylist repeatedly asked me, “Dis sha?” until I succumbed to her brandished scissors, only to discover seconds later when fourteen inches of my hair lay in a frizzy heap on the floor that she’d been repeating, “This short?” But traumatic haircuts aside, my femininity always burst from the regrettably low-cut V-necks I naïvely wore throughout middle school; my brief but ferocious stint as a fashionista who persistently strutted the halls of Sunset High School in six-inch heels with no concern for the future stiletto-repellence I was steadily instigating; and my tendency to hyper-obsess over male celebrities (specifically the cast of Lord of the Rings and one particularly deified actor from the mediocrely received Holes), a once ceaseless pastime that only just recently dissipated with a college girl crush on Tom Hardy.

Proof of femininity aside, the great rapport I always felt with my male peers didn’t mean I was ostracized from female companionship. In fact, my whole middle school table–which had conveniently gone unnamed when we decided to create a map of all the cafeteria cliques (preps, jocks, Martha Stewarts, and so forth), despite the fact that it quite frankly seated of a bunch of band kids and the token choir chick (me)–consisted of ten girls and half as many guys, one of whom kept being recycled in the bizarre phenomenon of middle school dating.

In fact, my best friend of of the past, present, and forecasted future is a kid called Willy Jazz, or Beans, or any number of monikers older sisters can’t help but ascribe to their closest DNA double helix. And close, she is. In a family of two sisters spaced two years apart, it’s as if she was developed in vivo to be my twin, complete with the added benefit of (in her opinion) not actually being my twin. In a similar vein, my former life partner à la Spongebob and Patrick and my lone female counterpart in one of those male-driven coteries was a girl who shared my embarrassing fervor for celebrity worship and helped me maintain the concrete abs of my youth just by falling prey to hysteria every time we were in the same vicinity (including that eighth grade English class where a boy named Casey Griswald turned around and snapped, “Will you two stop laughing for Christ’s sake!?“).

Beyond that, I had great times with my girlfriends forming one-hit-wonder cover bands complete with promotional materials and costumed music videos; exchanging inappropriately unpolitical delegate notes during Model United Nations conferences where we were supposed to be discussing the fate of Luxembourg’s debt sustainability; terrorizing the IMDB message boards with the fictitious “Legface,” before we knew what the verb “to troll” even meant; spending hours in front of a mirror primping for a night of lychee cocktails 15 floors above the Portland cityscape at Departure; and even achieving the coveted Sex and the City foursome all girls dream of during one magical year of college.

But in my experience, little things always seem to come between gal pals, be it the petty life mistakes that one party refuses to forget or simply 2,844 miles of United States soil and disparate schedules that handicap the relationship. However, in a gigantic city like Los Angeles where the list of entertainment, events, boutiques, clubs, bars, drag shows, and tans just waiting to be garnered at our many beaches is endless and the handful of people I’ve met thus far pardonably need to devote the majority of their time to their burgeoning careers, I can’t help but reminisce about all the benefits of having girlfriends in your life. All the fashion ogling, all the amateur restaurant critiquing, all the club hopping in dresses we’ll consider passé shortly after breaking them in, all the exotic flavors Bartini has to offer, all the inevitable man talk that spans the gamut from congratulations to commiseration, and all the laughter that can’t resist emission in one another’s presence.

Thus, even with all its endless distractions, L.A. has yet to distract me from the one glaring thing it’s missing: all my amazing girls.