Film Review: The Year of Spectacular Men

A kooky Millennial finds herself in this movie from Lea Thompson and her daughters.
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The Year of Spectacular Men was a family affair for the Deutch clan: Mom Lea Thompson directed and co-starred in the film; big sis Madelyn Deutch wrote, starred and was the lead composer; little sis Zoey Deutch co-starred and produced; and Dad Howard Deutch (who directed Pretty in Pink) produced as well. One has a feeling the family’s real-life dynamics would have made for a more interesting movie, but the film we do get to see kind of grows on you over time.

College grad Izzy (Madelyn Deutch)—the name should tip you off to the tizzy in which her life is spinning—doesn’t know what to do now that she must enter The Real World. She’s desperate to find her “thing,” or, more specifically, her “ending.” I’m not entirely certain what the difference between “thing” and “ending” is, in her mind, but at any rate they both seem to be synonymous with “purpose.” Rather than securing a job, or making an effort to find one, Izzy goes on a few acting auditions before agreeing to be personal assistant to her famous younger sister, Sabrina (Zoey Deutch). The girls are very close and some of their bickering is warmly entertaining (while at other moments it’s a little strained), with Sabrina taking on the role of no-nonsense, Type-A voice of reason to her disastrous older sister, who goes through phases like she plows through bags of M&M’s. It’s likely the death of their father several years back brought them even closer together, although his manner of death is a sticking point.

As the title suggests, the film follows Izzy over the course of her first year out of college. Yes, it’s punctuated by a series of men, who periodically break the fourth wall to give testimonials to the camera—although they do not stay with Izzy, and not always at Izzy’s own behest, they are, apparently, all still into her. This might have something to do with the fact that Izzy has a touch of the manic-pixie-dream-girl about her: She’s quirky, sexy in an adorable way, smart in a non-threatening way. In the hands of another actress she could have been very irritating, but Deutch is so earnest—everyone here, really, is so earnest—after a while you might find your resistance to tropes breached, and that you are, in fact, rolling with her. It helps, too, that Zoey Deutch as lil-sis Sabrina has great comedic timing. She is just as convincing playing uptight as she is playing profoundly silly.

Izzy’s voiceover intrudes several times throughout the movie to announce thoughts we have already inferred from the action, to remind us that she is still searching for her “ending” (we know), and the film is given to pronouncements, particularly at the end, when they take a turn for the empowering. Which is too bad, because the end is actually the best thing about Spectacular Men. Endings are difficult to get right, especially when the story is either playing with or inhabiting tropes—or, as Men seems to do, unevenly switching back and forth between the two modes. But the ending Izzy gets when it comes to her men is rather unexpected. The way in which writer Madelyn Deutch plays with the notion of Mr. Right is timely, true-feeling and even a little heartbreaking.

All the empowering speechifying that comes afterward is like so many curtains you want to brush aside in order to return to the final scene she shares with the last guy. In that one moment the film does something a bit different, something that’s a cut above everything else that might have found you simply rolling along. If you’re lucky enough to experience even just one moment like that, you can’t say it was an entirely bad Year.

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