Contrary to its title, The Year of Spectacular Men is a showcase for a series of pretty forgettable men. There’s the straight-up asshole, who’s emotionally and verbally abusive. There’s the theater drama nerd, who wants to share a kiss and then just cuddle. There’s the inordinately sweaty drummer, who leaves something to be desired in bed.
Izzy (Madelyn Deutch) cycles between these men as she wanders through her confusing and aimless first year out of college, supported by her strait-laced movie star sister, Sabrina (Madelyn’s real-life sister Zoey Deutch). The film is an updated indie rom-com, predictably set in New York City and Los Angeles, with documentary-style interviews with the “spectacular” men serving as a framing device. Izzy’s voiceover also provides periodic dramatic commentary. The movie is a family affair, written by Madelyn and directed by her and Zoey’s mother, Lea Thompson. In harmony with this, there’s a comfortingly simple, homespun feeling about the film, which helps to cut against its more self-consciously quirky moments — scenes that would feel cliched in a more polished indie.
“The movie is a family affair…there’s a comfortingly simple, homespun feeling about the film…”
The story is at its best when it zeros in on Izzy and Sabrina’s relationship, and the real-life sisters manage to recreate a genuinely believably big-sis-little-sis dynamic. Sabrina, especially, is a strongly imagined character — just banal enough in her faultlessness to operate as the perfect sidekick to Izzy’s protagonist, and Sabrina’s model boyfriend Sebastian (Avan Jogia) is more memorable and engaging than all of Izzy’s boy-toys combined. Even so, Sabrina’s own distress are revealed slowly and deliberately throughout the story, allowing Izzy’s growth to ring out toward the end when she’s able to come to her little sister’s rescue, and not vice versa.
Several of the gags are just plain duds. In addition to directing, Thompson plays Izzy and Sabrina’s mother Deb, a hippy-dippy sweetheart who’s newly dating a young yogi named Amythest (Melissa Bolona). The jokes that stem from this situation, like a thrice-repeated one regarding Izzy’s ignorance about quinoa, are stale from the start. Even so, both Madelyn and Zoey are so appealing as actors that it’s easy to fall for their scrambling sister pair. It’s an indisputably modest indie, with several hits and several more misses. But these two winsome, goofy women are real talents.
The Year of Spectacular Men (2018) Directed by Lea Thompson. Written by Madelyn Deutch. Starring Madelyn Deutch, Zoey Deutch, Avan Jogia, and Lea Thompson.
7 out of 10