Subversive Spontaneous one of year's best

click to enlarge Subversive Spontaneous one of year's best
Katherine Langford as Mara.

Something is seriously wrong at Covington High School. Students are exploding. Yes, blowing up. There's no rhyme or reason to it. It could be any of the teens who run the halls in the school. One second, you're taking notes in World History, the next, your brains are splattered all over your best friend, blood is dripping from the ceiling and your classmates are in a panic.

Mara is a nervous wreck, and who can blame her? The only things she should be concerned about is getting a date for prom and figuring out where she wants to go to college. Instead, she spends her days on edge, wondering if one of her friends or her new crush may be the next to go "pop." Even worse, if could be her. You never know...

Spontaneous, Brian Duffield's adaptation of the novel by Aaron Starmer, is the most audacious, subversive piece of popular filmmaking of 2020, a movie that blindsides you with how intelligent it is as it sneaks its timely message of defiance into what appears to be a standard, albeit dark, teen comedy. Funny, shocking and bold, this feature ultimately reveals itself to be a primal scream uttered on behalf of Generation Z in response to the horrific world they've inherited.

Duffield masterfully manipulates the viewer throughout, lulling us into a false sense of security after seeing poor Caitlin explode in her science class. After recovering from the initial shock, the film adapts the typical beats of a teen comedy as we see our heroine Mara (Katherine Langford) attempt to deal with what passes today for teen angst. She discusses her ever-changing plans for the future with her best friend, Tess (Hayley Law), and tolerates her peers who aren't nearly as smart as she is, yet amuse her all the same. And much to her surprise, she winds up with a boyfriend. Having come to the conclusion that life is too short for regrets after seeing one of his classmates blow up, Dylan (Charlie Plummer) tells Mara he's been attracted to her for quite some time. They decide to see where it leads, make plans for prom and...then a few of their classmates explode at a party.

The chemistry between Langford and Plummer is seductive, as we become so completely wrapped up in their charming love affair that we forget the darkly comic way in which the film began. So, when their peers begin to randomly die it comes as a brutal shock, which is precisely the point. The very fact that we live in a world where the possibility, slim though it may be, exists that on any given morning when we send our kids to school, we may never see them again because a random madman may slaughter them, is a perverse proposition. That it is allowed to continue is obscene and immoral.

So it comes as no surprise that Mara loses direction as her friends randomly die, that she gives up on her studies, abandons her friends and begins to display self-destructive behavior. It's a logical response to the insanity that surrounds her. Yet, what makes her a hero for these times and well worth emulating is that while she flirts with nihilism, ultimately, she looks the world in the face and defiantly declares she will live her life to the fullest, despite its violent, unjust nature. Mara is uncowed in the face of annihilation, a symbol of rebellion this lost generation deserves. Spontaneous is a vital work as it provides Generation Z with a playbook as to how to live in a mad world they never asked for and do it with sense of grace and purpose that puts us to shame.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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