Coming-of-age stories tend to be very hit and miss. The ones that truly work are rooted in their characters and formative experiences that are felt universally yet strongly relevant to the particular story told. The ones that don’t work seem to be too self-aware for their own good, trying their best to be profound while still pandering to their target audience’s tastes. Lea Thompson‘s theatrical directorial debut, The Year of Spectacular Men, unfortunately seems to fall into the latter category.
The film itself is a family affair, starring real-life siblings (Madelyn and Zoey Deutch), written by the eldest (Madelyn), directed by their mother (Lea Thompson), and produced by their father (Howard Deutch). Madelyn crafts a story in which she plays Izzy Klein, a young woman living in New York who is on the verge of graduating college and has no idea what to do with herself afterward. After a bad breakup with long-time boyfriend Aaron (Jesse Bradford), Izzy decides to move back home to California and live with her successful Hollywood starlet younger sister, Sabrina (Zoey), and her successful actor boyfriend Sebastian (Avan Jogia). Deciding to heed her sister’s advice of living her twenties carefree, Izzy’s following year is spent auditioning for acting parts, binge-watching The X-Files¹, helping Sabrina accept her mother Deb’s (Thompson) new relationship with the much younger Amythist (Melissa Bolona), and coping with her father’s recent suicide.
While Madelyn Deutch’s script is heartfelt at times, it seems to suffer from a sense of inexperience. The main characters themselves have the potential of showing promise, but the young actress never seems to send them in the right direction. Despite the title’s tongue-in-cheek mention of “spectacular men,” the women are the main focus of the film and Izzy’s relationships take so much of a back seat that the story would be unhindered without their exclusion. In fact, the numerous boyfriends come and go so seamlessly that the viewer would not even notice they were different characters if they were not played by different people. Deb’s lesbian relationship tries to give the story a bit of new-age, hipster-esque humor, but the jokes mostly fall flat and on the verge of being stereotypical and offensive.
Notwithstanding these flaws, dialogue actually be the nail in the coffin for The Year of Spectacular Men as it is evident that the actors, though professional, experience difficulty in delivering their lines believably. From the very start, the dialogue seems as if it was taken from Juno’s cutting room floor. You would think one could grow used to the overall cheese of the dialogue, but it didn’t happen for me.
The saving grace of The Year of Spectacular Men happens to be in Thompson’s direction, in which it is evident that she has a strong and thoughtful eye for filmmaking. Despite the material they are given, her actors all perform well, especially Madelyn. She even outshines her sister, who, at the moment, is arguably the sibling with the more lucrative career.
Despite what might be adequate first-time directing, an uninspired script leaves the flow of the story a bit too uneven and the dialogue overly clichéd. I appreciate what Thompson and her family were trying to accomplish; I imagine it would be a dream come true to take a family project and bring it to life. However, as it is, The Year of Spectacular Men leaves some to be desired.