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@ The IFF Boston: Opening Night Recap

by Jake Mulligan
Contributor
Friday Apr 26, 2013
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I can’t lie and tell you that the Independent Film Festival Boston is one of the best film festivals in the world. It goes without saying, really - it doesn’t have the premieres or the prestige of a fancy European festival; nor the effect on the industry that a festival like Sundance has; or the underground ’cool’ factor that South by Southwest offers.

But this collection of films - soon-to-be-released indies, foreign standouts, and some pictures that may never again grace a big screen - is more than just the content of a festival. It’s an excuse for something more; for a citywide celebration spanning all our best theaters (the Somerville, the Coolidge Corner, the Brattle, the Revere Hotel,) and our best movies. For the impassioned Boston cinemagoer, this is the highlight of every calendar.


The festival started with one of its most eccentric mascots - one of the many volunteers entertaining the crowd via his Moog synthesizer. (Not a single staff member is a paid employee of the festival, this is run by Boston film fans, for Boston film fans.) Once the sold out crowd had packed in its seats; the organizers came out for their rounds of applause; and introduced the festival’s new creative director: Casey Affleck.

"Some people told me it would be good for my [image] to be here, so here I am," joked the "Argo" autuer’s younger brother. But he was shuffled off stage as quickly as he was shuffled on; a smile and a wave enough to placate the audience for the night. He had to make way for James Ponsoldt, the director of the opening night feature, and one of said films two writers, Michael Weber.

While I can’t/won’t write a full review until the films August opening, I’m here to say: their The Spectacular Now is a great movie. Not a great Hollywood movie; not a great teen movie. It’s a special film; a work of indescribably nuance; a teen film that avoids all the trappings and stereotypes of the genre; one that ignores John Hughes rather than trying to resurrect him.


Miles Teller stars as an alcoholic big-man-on-campus; the celebrity of his high school; seldom seen without his fountain-soda-mixed-with-whiskey-in-a-plastic-chain-store-cup. Brie Larson features as his ex, and Shailene Woodley ("The Descendents") as the shy, somewhat frumpy girl - she pulls it off - who wins his heart. I’ve always thought Teller was a star; from his turn in "Rabbit Hole", to the loose Southern energy he injected into "Footloose", to his strange alternate universe turn as a different version of himself in "Project X" (he featured in that film as a star baseball player named Miles Teller.) His charisma has never been in doubt. It’s not a question of if this kid will break out, it’s when.

And he’s perfect for Ponsoldt’s down-to-earth drama; Teller’s scarred face matching the de-sentimentalized milieu of high school that "Spectacular" presents. But it’s Woodley, all vulnerability, puppy dog eyes, and unconditional adoration, who steals the picture. Unguarded and awash in all the thrall of youth, she gives one of the best performances you’ll see all year. Most teen movies are content letting their players embody archetypes - Shailene spends the film demolishing such reductions. She takes a already-complicated genre film and tangles it beyond any notion of reduction or simplicity. She makes it real.

It’s a special film; a singular work. The perfect way to kick off a perfect festival.


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