Post-graduate malaise, quarter-life crises and relationship woes collide in The Year of Spectacular Men. This drama-comedy explores the life and relationships of its main character, Izzy Klein, and how a year of failed romances and taking chances in life and career moves prove that growing pains continue well into someone’s mid-twenties. The indie film is also something of a family affair between director Lea Thompson (that’s right—Marty McFly’s mom) and her daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch, who are not only the main actresses in the film, but also wrote and scored (Madelyn) and produced (Madelyn and Zoey with dad Howard Deutch) the film.
The Year of Spectacular Men offers some familiar platitudes about growing up and finding oneself, even in the midst of one of the most difficult and foundational times in one’s life, but it is a little clumsy in its delivery. The film opens with talking-head interviews with men who have dated Izzy describing their overall impressions of her, remarking on her oddball qualities, quirky personality and attractiveness; it plays like a strange comment section on a YouTube video. If nothing else, it does effectively flesh out the male romantic interests in the film individually and reflects their shallowness and problematic natures, albeit in varying degrees.
The audience’s introduction to Izzy (Madelyn Deutch) seems to justify the men’s descriptions, as she is a neurotic, socially awkward acting-school student who is completely unsure of her wants or how to carry herself. Her younger sister, Sabrina (Zoey Deutch), is the polar opposite: a successful and famous model, Sabrina whips some morale into Izzy to shake her out of her depressive doldrums and get her life in order.
As part of her sojourn, Izzy moves back home to Los Angeles to try to make it in the acting world while living with her sister and her boyfriend, Sebastian (Avan Jogia). This upsets Izzy’s boyfriend, Aaron (Jesse Bradford), who takes the news as an affront and astutely calls out her impulsive nature and penchant to take up new passions that she eventually tosses aside.
With that years-long relationship over and done with, Sabrina encourages Izzy to pull herself up and start enjoying her twenties, offering to hook her up with a casting agent to kickstart her acting career. But instead of earnestly working on her craft and meeting with producers, Izzy takes up fling after fling, resulting in a series of hilariously awkward sexual encounters and realizations of her own shortcomings in her approach to relating to men. Complicated by holding onto a dark secret about her father’s death and navigating the strained relationship between Sabrina and their mother (Lea Thompson) because of mom’s newfound lesbianism, Izzy comes to realize that even though her own life is a mess, there are plenty of hardships to be felt even when you seemingly have it all.
While I’m aware the film’s action is based around the heroine’s romantic pursuits with men, it’s disappointingly not as focused on Izzy’s relationship with herself or her raison d’etre. There are a couple of Carrie Bradshaw-style voice-overs as she writes in a notebook, but they’re too few and far between to consider an actual motif. There are also way, way, way, way too many songs in this film’s soundtrack, so climactic moments lose their power to musical overkill.
The film’s saving grace, however, and what made it a nice watch was the onscreen rapport between Izzy and Sabrina. At first their characters seemed too one-dimensional and annoying, but as the film marched on, their chemistry felt incredibly organic, funny and enviable; I had too good a time watching these sisters bicker and discuss men onscreen that I almost wish I had grown up with a sister myself. I’m sure as a director, Thompson didn’t have to try hard to get the actresses to deliver these scenes together, and it easily helps make it an engaging film.
Knowing that Thompson herself has had very feminist leanings since her youth, I’m glad she’s angling her camera to tell a story about a woman’s life in her mid-twenties. But Madelyn Deutch’s screenplay (which, she admitted after a screening, she had to rewrite numerous times and is based on actual events on her life) leaves a lot to be desired regarding the main protagonist. Despite these flaws, many viewers can still identify with Izzy’s relationship dramas, as well as to the challenges that dating as a milleninal can bring. If nothing else, there’s always the humorous bromide Sabrina says to her mother and sister during one emotional scene: “Bitches need bitches.”
The Year of Spectacular Men was directed by Lea Thompson; written by Madelyn Deutch; and stars Madelyn Deutch and Zoey Deutch. Opens Fri.
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers the Orange County DIY music scene, film, arts, Latino culture and currently pens the long-running column Trendzilla. Born, raised, and based in Santa Ana, she loves bad movies, punk shows, raising her plants, eating tacos, Selena, and puns.