- Cast for How They Feel: This is the first of two movies we’ll look at that seem, on first glance, to be utterly miscast. In this case, it appeared to be an all-too-typical example of a certain Hollywood tendency: the mousy girl is played by a great beauty and the popular guy she moons over is played by a pudgy schlub. And so it seems…until they open their mouths. One of many reasons why every high school should be forced to watch this movie is that it show how pointless it is to worry about how you look at that age, because it’s all about your attitude. Miles Teller’s performance is simply astounding as the ultimate easygoing high school party guy. It powerfully reminded me of many real guys I’ve known…and nobody I’ve ever seen on screen (and Shailene Woodley did an amazing job in reverse, allowing all of her natural beauty and confidence to leak out of her like a sieve, becoming a totally-believable and heartbreaking non-entity)
- Observations are Better than Ideas: I loved this movie as I watched it, but I loved it even more when I saw one of the most over-rated movies of the year: Mud (Sorry, J.S.). That movie also aimed for an air of unadorned verisimilitude, but every scene rang phony to me because it was all about a romanticized idea of southern poverty that had nothing to do with the modern reality of life there. This is the best movie I’ve ever seen about the new south, where blandly universal exurbs uncomfortably co-exist with an unreconstructed shadow-world of roadhouse good old boys.
- Screw-Ups Don’t Screw Up All Day Long: So how do you make a small movie that doesn’t seem slight? How do you make a movie that feels unvarnished and utterly realistic without lapsing into mumblecore listlessness? One key is take non-overheated problems (my boyfriend isn’t a disastrous alcoholic but he does drink too much) and gradually show how much they still truly suck. One thing addicts tend to say is that they wish their problem was worse, because then it would be untenable. In the end, Teller has to force the crisis to come, by refusing to tell his boss and girlfriend the lies they both want to hear about his drinking. The filmmakers discover that if you gaze deep enough into a small, realistic, non-disastrous problem, you can find a deep abyss of very real pain.
Next: More southern-ness!