Contrary to its title, the most spectacular thing about The Year of Spectacular Men is its women: scriptwriter-star Madelyn Deutch, actress Zoey Deutch, and director (who makes her feature debut) Lea Thompson, the mother of Madelyn and Zoey who clearly has talent as deeply embedded into her genes as the now-defunct Limited Too had glitter butterfly patches embroidered onto its jeans.
With The Year of Spectacular Men, the Deutch family — including father Howard Deutch, who produces, but we’re not really here to talk about the merits of men; we’re focused on the ladies — crafted a bubbly indie comedy-drama that gives off billowy bulbs of light and is filled little moments of genuine hilarity and the kind of vulnerability that only exists behind closed doors that burst back-to-back as if playing a game of tag: one here, one there, one here, one there.
Madelyn Deutch leads The Year of Spectacular Men as Izzy Klein, a tequila-loving millennial who moves through life like tourists travel across the moving conveyor at Disneyland: relatively aimlessly, with little autonomy, and a tendency to make Not Awesome decisions when there are other, healthier options available just nearby. In the Disneyland attendees metaphor, it’s just walking on the damn sidewalk instead of outsourcing to an it’ll-walk-for-you mechanism; in Izzy’s case, it’s dating men who are nice, put-together, capable of respecting women instead of straight-up losers.
As the men in the film’s opening sequence — a jazz soundtrack-backed vignette of New York City that feels like a tribute to a certain type of film by a certain, widely despised filmmaker whose name rhymes with Smoody Smallen, but is surprisingly not indicative of the freshness that follows it — describe her, Izzy is slightly insecure, has a need to want to know how her partner feels (gasp!), “smells like fabric softener,” is “sexy in a goofy, Special Olympics kind of way,” and is “more depressed and more neurotic” than even perhaps her most unhinged former boy toys. Her younger sister — the hyper successful model and actress whose work is never “just a fashion thing” and who defies the supposed norm that twentysomethings take a year off post-university graduation to really find themselves — is Zoey Deutch’s Sabrina. The binary opposition to Izzy’s floating-in-a-sensory-deprivation-tank-type malleability, Sabrina is sharp as a tack, quick as a whip, and a natural fixer.
Sabrina’s energy seems to scream for Izzy to follow in her footsteps, to move to Calfornia with her and her boyfriend Sebastian Bennett (Avan Jogia) and discover meaning in the sunshine. But just as Izzy decides she’s ready to head for the West Coast state Katy Perry famously sang about, her long-term boyfriend Aaron Ezra (Jesse Bradford, whom many will yelp upon realizing he’s Cliff from Bring It On) dumps her just ahead of her college graduation. Aaron points to Izzy’s lack of direction as his reason for cutting ties, but everyone (but not Aaron himself, never men themselves) knows he isn’t a treat either.
Not willing to give up on or postpone the possibility of a Prince Charming, a happy ending, the “thing” that will make her feel better after her father’s death, Izzy embarks on her personal journey: the titular year of spectacular men — who are actually milquetoast-at-best, manchildren-at-worst.
Cameron Monaghan’s Ross — a fellow actor Izzy meets in class for her final assignment — is Guy Number One. When Ross, self-involved with an insane apartment that looks ripped from the pages of an interior design magazine, ditches Izzy, granting her the window to head to the West Coast.
What follows is the rest of the not-so-spectacular string — made up of film director Charlie Reed (Nicholas Braun), drummer Logan (Brandon T. Jackson), skier Mikey (Zach Roeric), and a smattering of others — a family secret, some cliches, a couple of trip-ups, lots of silliness, and even more sincerity.
It may not hit every beat right on rhythm, and its crackles of tartness and jaunty fun are occasionally offset by stumbles in the story (the shots at Deb’s same-sex relationship with Melissa Bolona’s Amythyst Stone feel disingenuous to Madelyn Deutch’s otherwise honest, luminous script and there are a handful of moments that get a little too screwball-y), but The Year of Spectacular Men is an inherently likable rom-com-drama, due in large part to the Detuches’ incredible on-screen chemistry.
A sweet and shiny film (H/T cinematographer Bryan Koss) that ironically works best when it shelves the dudes of its name and focuses on the deliciously complex relationship between Izzy, Sabrina, and their mother, The Year of Spectacular Men proves that in the battle of the sexes, imperfect women trump “spectacular” men time and time again.