The Crossing: A Review of the Film “The Spectacular Now” (2013)

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Saturday, January 25, 2014


THE coming-of-age romantic comedy film has gone through so many iterations but the themes are usually basic. Boy-meets-girl but girl-is-from-the opposite-side-of-tracks, and the ride we are taken for an hour and a half is the slow but delicious crossing of the boy and girl across whatever type of social divide happens to be the fancy of the film. And it is usually graced by Molly Ringwald.

Something about those pouty lips perhaps that make her the poster girl for these tales of young romance overcoming the odds. In Sixteen Candles, it is the age and coolness barrier she overcomes which she does again in Pretty in Pink. This time it was the preppy moneyed class that was barring her crossing to the young man of her dreams. Good thing she had excellent taste in music which essentially raised her cred despite her terrible fashion sense.

Beyond Molly, the same theme of social “crossing” can be gleaned from 80’s classics such as Some Kind of Wonderful where Eric Stoltz crossed the threshold of best buddy to bewildered lover to tomboy Mary Stuart Masterson. Although it was understandable for him to be waylaid by the nebulant Lea Thompson.

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At the opposite side of the tracks offered by these films, however, is a common destination. In a magic trick that has poured millions of dollars in revenue for Hollywood, successfully eliding the issues of class which had been merely used as a narrative device, we are given endings that offer a fairy tale love. These honest films that at times document the horrors of growing up end up cleaning the mess of the class divide by tugging at our heartstrings through the reliable myth of love-conquering-all happily-ever-after at the ending. This illusion apparently still sells given a more contemporary iteration of young love crossing the divide, this time that chasm is between vampires and werewolves.

But there is a separate tradition in the romcom tradition, yet parallel to all these, that provide a more satisfying take about young love. The recent film “The Spectacular Now” is a worthy heir to the contemplative tenor of coming-of-age films such as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Fast Times in Ridgemont High, and Mike Nichol’s classic The Graduate - perhaps the film that started them all.

"Spectacular Now" as well as these films that came before it also tackle the theme of crossing over but instead of offering love as an antidote and all-in-one resolution to the horrors of adolescent struggle the film offers something else.

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, are present here but toned down a notch lower, thank god. The film actually offers a fresh take of teenagers since they are not drug-crazy and horny nincompoops. Instead, we have a sympathetic dissection of the popular guy falling with a nerdy girl thinking that he is saving her from the cesspool of high school social strata but gets the unexpected redemption instead.

The crossing made by the protagonists of the film is not an overcoming of the class divide, between coolness, preppy-ness and the uncool misfits of high school life, but between young burdened souls and the challenges of adulthood amid the wasteland of contemporary America.

Young love is not the focus but it is the vehicle through which the boy and girl achieves maturity. What started out as a dysfunctional and even cruel rebound affair for the boy blossomed into a meaningful alliance of young souls lost in the mess created by adults that is their parents. And they do not end the film by having a tight shot of the two locked in a kiss under the rain illuminated by headlights in a parking lot.

Which is a rare thing in most romantic coming-of-age films. They usually condescend on the young and usually offer vapid takes about growing up. Parents and adults are made into caricatures of middle class affection or if not, if they are portrayed to be dysfunctional, are redeemed by the true love of the young. One can almost anticipate that after the anthemic new wave music fades out, and the credits finish rolling, a similar fate awaits them as their parents who once was also fooled by the illusion of romantic love.

But in this film, there is no complete union, though they did make love. At the end they turned out to be strong independent individuals dealing with each of their burdens separately, first love notwithstanding. Instead, the viewers are given hints and possibilities of a better future, despite the fact that it had been made so unappealing and revolting by adults.

*****

(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 26, 2014.

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