The “spectacular” in Lea Thompson’s “The Year of Spectacular Men” is meant to be taken with a grain of salt — or rather, several shots of tequila, which is how Izzy Klein (Thompson’s daughter Madelyn Deutch, who also wrote the script) winds up tumbling into bed with dudes who don’t respect her. In an opening montage, the guys (Jesse Bradford, Brandon T. Jackson, Cameron Monaghan, Zach Roerig, and Nicholas Braun) tell us who she is: insecure, neurotic, depressive, and “sexy in a goofy Special Olympics way.” They’re jerks. But she convinces herself each one is Prince Charming because she wants her fairy tale happy ending on page one. This un-spectacular recent college grad would rather kiss creeps than fix her flaws, which means the film’s plot is basically hurdling relationships on a treadmill. Izzy’s going nowhere but she’s always about to fall flat on her face. And it’s as exhausting for the audience as it is for her.
Thompson’s theatrical directing debut works best as a showcase for daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch who bring a real life zing to their fictional sister act with mom herself showing up as, well, mom. (Husband Howard Deutch, who met his wife directing “Some Kind of Wonderful,” produces, but has been swapped out onscreen for Melissa Bolona as Thompson’s hippie lover Amythyst Stone.) As Sabrina, Zoey is the together one, a paparazzi-stalked actress who lives in Los Angeles with her long-term boyfriend Sebastian (Avan Jogia) while stoking her fame with an imaginary affair with Zac Efron (who lends his name, but not his presence). At the end of act one, Izzy ditches New York for Los Angeles after being discarded by yet another dweeb. Maybe she’ll make better life choices. Nah, she’ll just cower in bed marathoning “The X-Files.”
“Spectacular Men” has the structure of a romantic comedy where suitors cycle back around having made microscopic improvements and there’s an anxious pause as Izzy debates giving them another go. A man isn’t the solution, and the film seems to know that, yet frustratingly, they’re the only plot junctures offered. The tone wavers between ennui and mania, between acoustic guitars and marimba covers of “Pomp & Circumstance.” It expects empathy for Izzy’s inertia, but her first major moments have her screaming about nonsense — say, a fight about her phobia of sleeping under a top sheet — before climaxing with yet another unsatisfying sexual encounter. Later, Izzy blows off a career opportunity by deciding to boink a drummer. She doesn’t care, so why should we? At least that’s believable. As for the script’s insistence that an urbanite child of a yoga instructor has never heard of quinoa, that gag’s been stale since 2005.
“You’ve been too scared to get a job or a personality or a packet of floss,” gripes Izzy’s younger sister. In contrast to her pliant sibling, Sabrina is sharp, loving, and merciless. Her jokes slice through the passivity like a blade — especially when she plunks a knife next to her extended-stay guest and quips that it “isn’t a suicide suggestion.” Zoey Deutch has been carving out a career playing millennial Rosalind Russells, flinty, fast-talking dames who announce their opinions while keeping their tender parts to themselves. (She’s also great in “Set It Up,” which opens this weekend, too.) Sabrina’s relationship with live-in boyfriend Sebastian has zip. When they’re happy, we’re happy — and when they fight, we’re desperate for them to make amends.
For better and worse, Madelyn Deutch’s script is too honest to give her character the phony happy ending Izzy wants. Instead, it punts midway by adding a family secret that’s easier to overcome. Still, when Izzy’s guys slither off-stage and she, Sabrina, and their mother get to focus on their own complicated relationship, the film sparks to life. With the right script, this trio could make a fantastic flick. Forget these “spectacular” men. These flawed women are plenty.