Tag Archives: James Ponsoldt

You Wanna See a Dead Body?


by Hope Madden

We’re invited to a turning point for four best friends. This is the last weekend of summer. On Monday, Daisy (Lia Barnett), Lola (Sanal Victoria), Dina (Madalen Mills) and Mari (Eden Grace Redfield) will be middle schoolers.

The first moments of Summering communicate the film’s strengths and weaknesses simultaneously. Heavy-handed, stilted voiceover narration sinks what is otherwise a jubilant, funny and very authentic opening.

Daisy, in voiceover, as we watch four adorable youngsters walk and talk through their suburban neighborhood: Summer has no walls. You can go anywhere.

Mari, on-camera dialog about that time her mom made her use the men’s room because the line for the women’s room was too long: Pee was everywhere. It was like a lake of man pee.

Summering walks that weird balance for its entire run time. One moment beams with the authentic lunacy of pre-adolescence. The next, adult male writers wax poetic and pretend that poetry sprung from the mind of a 12-year-old girl.

Director James Ponsoldt (The Circle, The Spectacular Now) and co-writer Benjamin Percy set the kids on an adventure before school and life changes the delicate balance of their circle. It amounts to a modern retelling of Stand By Me, with lower stakes, less ground to cover, and a wild lack of logic. Ponsolt and Percy seem desperate to capture the raw honesty of Reiner’s classic King adaptation, but their result’s a cloying mess.

The performances – especially Redfield and Megan Mullally as Mari’s mom – charm and endear with authenticity. Victoria and Mills succeed in crafting individuals, girls with backstories and personalities. Barnett, paired with an effective if woefully underused Lake Bell as the mom who drinks, struggles with the heavy emotion of an arc that’s clearly telegraphed.

It’s another way the storytelling rings false scene after scene.

Helicopter parents and cell phones, cartwheels and nostalgia, Ponsolt brings together all the elements for a modern ode to the last moments of childhood. And he tries really hard. But he’s unconvincing.

Sometimes Actually Spectcular

The Spectacular Now

by Hope Madden

The Spectacular Now suffers slightly from high expectations. National critics quickly heralded the film the summer’s best, and its quirky indie pedigree is tough to argue. The film marks Shailene Woodley’s first feature since her breathtaking turn in The Descendents. Penned by the duo that delivered 500 Days of Summer, directed by Smashed helmsman James Ponsoldt, and starring the charmingly charismatic, damaged doofus Miles Teller, the film’s buzz certainly felt potentially deserved.

A popular, life-of-the-party high school senior rebounds from a break up by dating a quiet, hard-working, nice girl. Brace yourself, there’s no make-over, no peer pressure, no angst.

No angst – what?!

It’s true. In fact, it is the film’s fresh approach that makes the safe decisions and clichés stand out. For a high school romance with an edge, The Spectacular Now is an engaging dramedy boasting stronger scripting and far superior performances than what you find in other likeminded works. Indeed, it sparkles in comparison to similar genre titles – the sickeningly overrated Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example.

Polsoldt never drapes his high school romance in nostalgia – a common mistake in films such as these – but looks at the situation with the clear view his protagonist lacks. With a handful of exceptions, the writing holds up, and when it doesn’t, credit Teller and especially Woodley for the sheer talent to buoy the occasional weak scripting.

Woodley, who wowed audiences with her turn as the thoroughly modern, cynical teen in Descendents, shows true range that proves her wealth of talent.

Viewers who remember Teller from his recent work in Project X and 21 and Over may see the young actor as a one-trick pony, again playing the likeable screw up with an alcohol dependency. In his performance here, though, we glimpse a bit of the nuance and power fans of his turn in 2010’s Rabbit Hole will remember.

Unfortunately, The Spectacular Now falls too conveniently into a formula framed by the dreaded college essay. Ponsoldt lets his crisis off the hook far too simply, and where the resolution should have felt appropriately ambiguous, it instead seems superficially settled.

But cast that all aside and drink in two of the most fully crafted teens ever to hit the screen. The team of Ponsoldt, Woodley and Teller plumb for that bittersweet combination of longing, confidence, vulnerability and potential that marks adolescence. While his film may be merely better than average, his leads are truly spectacular.