It's Not That Complicated


Miles Teller, left, and Shailene Woodley are an unlikely pairing in “The Spectacular Now.”

One day I shall write a screenplay. It will go something like this: Teenage girl meets teenage boy. Teenage boy acts like a jerk. Teenage girl recognizes that he’s a jerk and ends their relationship. The end. OSCAR.

The above scenario isn’t what happens in “The Spectacular Now,” out Friday — or in any other teen romance. In “Now,” Sutter (Miles Teller) meets Aimee (the excellent Shailene Woodley). He’s popular but bad; she’s not popular but good. You know the rest of the story. I know the rest of the story. And I’m tired of this particular story.

Every tale needs conflict (which is why my film “Girl Doesn’t Date Jerk” would actually be really boring), and storytellers have only so many conflicts to choose from. But I find myself completely through with films that instruct me to want the Good Girl to fix the Bad Boy. It’s trite, it’s cloying, and, frankly, it’s damaging.

The worst example in recent memory is the quasi-abusive relationship between Edward and Bella in the “Twilight” series. Here’s a hint: If a guy sneaks into your room to watch you sleep, if a guy won’t answer any questions about himself, if a guy tells you he wants to kill you, DO NOT DATE THAT GUY. Sutter and Aimee’s relationship never reaches the biting stage, but Sutter repeatedly tells Aimee he’s bad for her. I wish she had listened just once.

This storytelling trope doesn’t shed any new light on relationships. All it does is feed the mentality that women are the force of good, capable of fixing a broken man through the power of love. But staying with a jerk isn’t proof that you love him. It’s proof that you think, for some reason, that you deserve a jerk, that love is only love if you struggle, and that anything easy isn’t worth having.

But love can exist without rain-soaked shouting matches, without emotional cruelty, without an accidental backhand to the face. That quiet love may not sell tickets, but “The Spectacular Now” is trying to sell us a tired story that never should have been told in the first place.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · August 8, 2013