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American Ultra may appear like a simple Stoner Action/ Comedy film, but it does progressively get complex as time wears on.
Characters & Story
Between smoking pot, anxiety, being with his girlfriend, and working at a convenience store, Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) lives quite the simple life. However, one man out to prove himself, named Adrian Yater (Topher Grace) is for some reason trying to wipe out Mike’s existence. Thankfully, though, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) isn’t going to let Mike go down without a fight. Also, if she can help it, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), Mike’s girlfriend, isn’t going to let some bastard on a power trip take out her boyfriend without possibly going through her first.
Based off the poster, and the trailer, honestly I wasn’t expecting much here. It seemed like it was going to be silly, and not even in a Seth Rogen way, and was pretty much going to be the type of film which makes fans of Eisenberg or Stewart have to fight even harder to say both of them are good actors. That is until you realize this isn’t some Harold and Kumar with guns and romance.
No, this film may start off simple, with the loveable stoner and his cute relationship, but then it evolves. Mike has severe anxiety and because of that, he can’t even take the woman he loves, to the point of marriage, on a Hawaii vacation. Yet, despite her missing this opportunity, Stewart shows how genuine Phoebe’s love is for the guy. For while she is upset, Stewart portrays Phoebe in such a way that you can see that she has fully come to accept all of Mike’s flaws and is down for whatever.
Which, for me, being someone who suffered through the Twilight series, I found amazing. For despite Stewart and Robert Pattinson dating in real life, and being co-stars for 4 years, their chemistry doesn’t match Stewart and Eisenberg’s at all. Those two together seemed sweet, made me swoon, and when he spoke as if he was holding her back from the better things in life and later on, she said that it was her holding him back, I got teary eyed. Not to imply this movie really gets that deep, to the point you’ll be in tears, but more so what this film shows is that Stewart is learning how to play a better love interest.
But here comes the real kicker, rather than be some damsel in distress, one which Mike has to say, Phoebe kicks some ass. To the point where Phoebe pretty much is almost equal to Mike in terms of how much of a bad ass she seems, especially considering she didn’t go through the same trauma or training, Mike did. Which leads to the topic of how bad ass the women, in general, are in this film.
Now, Phoebe can handle a gun, fight, pick handcuffs, and sometimes even saves Mike as people try to kill him, yet even with her being this badass, she is never portrayed as simple a dude walking around in tights. This is the type of role I think either Stewart, or Michelle Rodriguez, spoke about where it isn’t simply a role written for a guy portrayed by a girl, but a fully complicated, or rather complex, woman who may possess what might be considered traditional male skills, like combat, yet still has feminine qualities. For even if she maybe snuggled up to Mike in one scene, later on she is keeping him from collapsing onto the ground.
Same thing goes with Britton’s character Victoria. Despite being in the CIA, and it seeming she is dealing with rampant sexism, she remains this beautiful balance of tough, through her gun skills and exhibition of authority, yet still showing what some may consider traditional feminine qualities, like empathy. Thus making it so as much as Eisenberg may have been the star, arguably Stewart surpasses the usual love interest role, and becomes someone who is a true leading lady. Someone who matches their male counterpart scene for scene rather than simply is the leading lady since she has the most scenes and is the main plot device for the male lead.
I guess the main issue here is that as interest and complex as Stewart and Britton characters are, unfortunately, that doesn’t extend to Grace’s Adrian Yates. He is a very simple villain who is despicable enough to get an emotional response out of you, but with Adrian in the same film as Phoebe and Victoria, it does feel like they dropped the ball. If only because him being a comedic character makes all the time and effort put into Phoebe and Victoria seem like they deserve to be in a better movie. For while you get to know Adrian enough to understand his main goal is to move up the ladder, there were times I wished he wasn’t a punk and was someone to be taken seriously. Making it so Mike’s stoner persona would be the comic relief.
Overall: Worth Seeing
This movie honestly was surprisingly good. To the point that most of the hate I usually have for Eisenberg, since he seems so pompous in 90% of his roles, has temporarily disappeared. For, like Stewart, we get showed that we cannot fully judge their talents by past characters, and their off-camera persona. But what really drove me to firmly placed this in the “Worth Seeing” batch is that it hits all the things needed in a film. It is funny, can get you emotionally invested, has a twist or two, and has a satisfying ending. Making it so that Adrian, as a character, might be the only true negative about the film.
Things To Note
I forgot to mention, while the movie isn’t necessarily hilarious, it certainly is funny. Eisenberg delivers most of the jokes here with either stone lines or just reactions which don’t fully make sense, yet they will make you laugh uncontrollably.