A movie about puppy-dog high school love starring ex-Nickelodeon/Disney Channel stars playing wealthy white L.A.-dwellers? No thanks. And yet--I had heard a couple recommendations and my curiosity got the better of me. And it turns out I actually liked it. Far from being the dumb rom-com of high school clichés I was expecting, the model to think of here is Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset. Of course, it’s not nearly as good as that seminal film, but the mechanics are similar: A boy and a girl meet each other unexpectedly and begin talking, and their conversation continues through arguments, interests, statements of purpose, and philosophies of life as they gradually fall in love. The film starts on a Friday night and ends on Monday morning, so the action never has a chance to get wild or drawn-out. Instead the focus is entirely on the two leads (Dylan O’Brien and Britt Robertson), on their little ticks and quirks, the way they stumble over words and struggle with embarrassment while opening themselves to genuine romantic intimacy for the first time. Of course, it’s still shot with flat lighting, bright colors, and smooth-faced well-dressed characters that remind strongly of tween-aimed television. But somehow the fact that it pushes past that, that we come to know these characters and recognize their emotions, makes the final result sweeter and more impressive than it would have seemed otherwise. Among recent teen romances, it isn’t quite up there with The Spectacular Now, but it’s far, far ahead of something like Easy A.
Rating: 7/10 stars.
(actually posted Jan 2015)