This week I found myself seeing a movie featuring Shailene Woodley of Secret Life of the American Teenager and The Descendants fame; Brie Larson, who I mostly know from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The United States of Tara; and the familiar faces of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Andre Royo. The main draw though was a trailer attached to The Way, Way Back I believe, and since Shailene Woodley is starting to prove that her work on Secret Life was more due to bad writing than whatever skills she may possess, I find myself following her career a bit.
Now, going into characters, the lead role of Sutter (played by Miles Teller) feels very much like an audition piece to be in a remake of Ferris Bueller. Teller has the charisma, the timing and the look of someone who can be a more average looking heartthrob, but he also has this vulnerability in his performance as Sutter which helps him make the character not seem as inspired by Bueller, for it feels like you get to understand why Sutter does what he does, says what he says and how all this creates the person we see. For, to me, the way Sutter is written really does help make this movie seem less like a fantasy romance, but something could be considered authentic with a few embellishments. Unfortunately, though, Aimee (played by Shailene Woodley) feels like a weird mix of the traditional female lead who only becomes vibrant because of the male lead, but at the same time it feels like she is more fleshed out than the traditional female lead for she has interest and goals outside of being with the male lead.
This leads me to talk about the story: The movie starts off almost in a Romeo & Juliet type of way. Sutter seems to have this great girl in Cassidy (played by Brie Larson) but like Rosaline, she grows tired of Sutter and basically wants something, or someone, who takes life a bit more seriously. From there, like Romeo, Sutter goes into a type of depression, which involves drinking and driving, and ends up on a random person’s lawn. Enter Aimee, a sort of Juliet, and from there things begin with Sutton seemingly investing in Aimee for her kindness, and then you quickly can feel and see, a romance which blossoms almost against Sutter’s original intentions. As time goes on, and he gets more comfortable with the idea of dating Aimee, you begin to notice just how much he really needed someone like her in his life. For, as much as he pushes her out her comfort zone, she does the same for him and through this, we see her as more than a simple love interest which is quite beautiful to watch. The situations they go through together, and speak about, makes this feel like more than a book adaptation, which all signs point to being a work of fiction, but perhaps someone’s life written onto screen.
And that is probably what I like the most about this film. Being someone who loves romance movies, I have a slight issue with ones that have the guy or girl go over the top like in The Notebook where he is literally hanging from a Ferris Wheel to coerce a girl to go out with him; or other movies where it just feels like their relationship is based more on grand gestures than the basic foundation of being friends and there for each other during the hard times and decisions. But, with Aimee and Sutter, you can see them bring the best out of each other and even during the almost obligatory scene(s) when, usually, the guy does something stupid, the movie decides to steer things toward reminding you that fights and accidents don’t always lead to huge blow ups, but are sometimes simply things that happen when two people try to have their lives fit into almost one existence.
Which sort of leads to an issue I had with the film: Aimee, while lovable, just feels so generic at times. For though she does get fleshed out, it almost feels like she is the Eve to Sutton’s Adam and not in a positive or romantic way. To me, Aimee sometimes feels like the same quiet, slightly aloof, shy girl we always see who thanks to this extroverted guy becomes almost a new person who now is brimming with confidence. Also, as mentioned earlier, every romantic movie has a scene when things get too real, usually for the guy, and this leads to a blow-up. Now, the blow up in this film is something shocking and I felt it was forgiven just a bit too quickly. If, or when, you decide to see the movie, you’ll understand what I mean.
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a good romance film. This film brings all that and more. We have the comical persona of Sutton; the romance Aimee brings out of the story; Cassidy who reminds us of the difficulty of being around our first love, while trying to move on; Ms. Keely (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Mr. Keely (played by Kyle Chandler) remind us of the difficulty and effect our relationships with our parents can bring; and all this is wrapped up together in a movie which feels like more than a coming of age romance drama, but perhaps someone’s life with just a touch of embellishment. That is why I recommend this movie. I can’t say it is going to become iconic like The Notebook, but to me it is amongst the great realistic portrayals of the issues which come from being on the brink of graduating High School and starting to see that transition to adulthood coming, and knowing that you still have a lot of unresolved things from your childhood to deal with, much less growing up to do.