'The Spectacular Now': How director James Ponsoldt made it more than just another teen movie
'The Spectacular Now' is a welcome change in the teen movie genre, according to many reviewers. 'Spectacular' director James Ponsoldt and stars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley discuss how they made their movie different.
In preparation for the Friday debut of "The Spectacular Now," Landmark Theaters around the country curated a selection of notable coming-of-age movies: Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything" and "Almost Famous," John Hughes' "The Breakfast Club," and Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused."Skip to next paragraph
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The message was simple: "The Spectacular Now" is not just another teen movie. And the message was also accurate: With quiet, natural performances, Miles Teller ("Rabbit Hole") and Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants") anchor a movie that gives viewers the sense that they're watching real teens.
In a way, "The Spectacular Now," based on the novel by Tim Tharp with a screenplay by "(500) Days of Summer" writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, has given a maligned genre a shot of freshness and emotion. TheWrap spoke to director James Ponsoldt, and to Woodley and Teller, to see how they did it.
1. Aim high.
JAMES PONSOLDT: A lot of people will get to that one-line description in TV Guide and see "teen movie." And for better or worse – I would say worse – "teen movie" has come to connote in America a marginalized film ghetto where it's about adolescence, and the approach and the filmmaking is adolescent, immature, obsessed with fart jokes, whatever.
It wasn't always that way. "Splendor in the Grass" wasn't that way, "The Last Picture Show" wasn't that way, "Rebel Without a Cause" wasn't that way. To me, there's a very cynical attitude of, "Oh, it's about young people, so we'll do it hand-held on a 5D, or make it like a found-footage movie." I wanted to create something that could exist outside of time, that could be on a shelf in 1993 or '83 or '75 next to "Breaking Away" or "Over the Edge."
2. Pick the right material.
PONSOLDT: I was approached after Sundance, because the producers had seen "Smashed" and liked it. I wasn't interested in directing someone else's script, but I was curious, so I read it. And for the first five or 10 pages, I was like, "I don't know if I like this main character. I don't want to glorify this guy." He was kind of a petulant, bratty alpha-male guy. And then he literally fell on his face, met Aimee, and then the story proceeded to take slightly left-of-center choices throughout. And ultimately, I was Sutter in high school. That was me. I'd always been interested in writing a story about late adolescence, but I didn't want to be too autobiographical, but these guys had written the thing.