In The Year of Spectacular Men, out June 15 in select theaters and on demand, Izzy (Madelyn Deutch), situated at the precipice of college graduation, gripes that she still hasn’t found her “thing” yet. Izzy explains to her famous younger sister, Sabrina (played by Deutch’s real life sister Zoey Deutch), "I want to find the thing that makes me feel better.” Over the course of the next 12 months, Izzy will try many “things” on her way to the One: pottery, acting, dating musicians. Izzy flails her way to self-discovery.
With her debut movie, which she wrote and starred in, 27-year-old Madelyn Deutch captures a very specific moment in a young millennial woman’s life: the start of post-graduate adulthood, and the start of her formation. In this way, Izzy doesn’t resemble 2018’s most beloved heroines, like the high-concept heist planner Debbie Ocean of Ocean’s 8 or the casual genius Shuri of Black Panther. She’s not necessarily a heroine to look up to. Rather, she’s a heroine to relate to.
The Year of Spectacular Men is Deutch's debut, though Hollywood runs in her blood. Her mother, Lea Thompson, who also directed the movie, is an actress who rose to fame in the '80s. Her sister, Zoey Deutch, has an acting career taking off as quickly as her character Sabrina's – her movie Set It Up premiered on Netflix same day The Year of Spectacular Men hit theaters.
Last week, Refinery29 sat down with Deutch to speak about the car ride that inspired The Year of Spectacular Men, the death and rebirth of the romantic comedy, and why no one could play Izzy but her.
Refinery29: There aren’t many movies made about this particular time in a millennial woman’s life.
Madelyn Deutch: “There aren’t. That’s why I made it. Every time I went on a streaming platform, I couldn’t find anything to watch. It’s not because I’m picky — I love film and television. I just said, 'Oh, there’s a hole in the demo. There’s a hole in the market.' They don’t want to deal with it, and I don’t know why. I think women in their 20s are really complex creatures. Society likes to see women as the virgin or the mother. It doesn’t like to see you as a sexual creature, or someone who’s still figuring it all out.”
Where do you see your movie fitting into the history of comedies and romantic comedies?
"Tonally, I was interested in making a film that was what I wanted to watch. I want to continue making movies that have at once depth and entertainment. To me, the people who did that the best were Nora Ephron and John Hughes. They were writers who were more interested in people than anything else. They’re telling character-based stories centered around fairly simple events. Pretty in Pink is about prom. Some Kind of Wonderful is about a date. When Harry Met Sally is a singular concept: Can men and women be friends? I’m interested in telling that stuff from a millennial perspective. That was the tone I was looking for. A combination of: How can I talk about the real shit, and at the same time make you laugh?"
I’m curious about the title, The Year of Spectacular Men. There are a lot of men in the movie, but most aren’t spectacular. But the movie, to me, was really about family and sisterhood.
"The title was the first thing I came up with. I was in a car ride with my mom [Lea Thompson] and sister [Zoey Deutch]. We were joking around because one of us hadn’t gotten a job. We were like, ‘Damn it! Screw ‘em! We’ll just make our own movie,' as a joke. My mom goes, ‘Maddy can write the script.’ At the time, I wasn’t screenwriting. I was working as an actor and a musician. But I’ve always been a writer. She goes, ‘What do you want to call it?’ I said, ‘I’ll call it The Year of Spectacular Men and talk about all the terrible dates I went on this year.’ That’s what the movie was born of."
Did you draw on your own life and your relationship with your mom and sister?
"I drew much more on my own life with the men, a lot less on my actual relationship with my mom and sister. We are a lot more balanced than they are. There are clear roles each of them play in the film. In our real life, we’re much more elastic."
But no one wants to see a movie about well-adjusted people.
"No, and I think also, one of the hardest things about writing is: How do you try to upend expectation? How do you try to tell a fresh story? There’s no villain in this story. That kind of thing makes structure complicated. But how do you still push plot forward? No matter how fresh you want your movie to be, you still want your character to feel like they went from A to B."
The lack of antagonist is something that has been mentioned in reviews for Ocean’s 8. These are both movies that allow women to exist without getting pushback. Why might an absence of antagonists be a pattern in current movies about women, written by women?
"I think women have an interesting lens on life. We have a different perspective. Without making blanket statements, I know — speaking for myself – I’m much more interested in the intricacies and the little moments that happen between people than these big, broad strokes. Flipping the script in that way is something a lot of women writers do. Your perspective on the world is inherently unique. Inherently different. Trying to express that perspective, of course it’s going to come out in a way that’s not like: 'Boom, and this happens on this page.'"
So the movie won’t necessarily follow a conventional hero's journey, either.
"Don’t get me wrong, I love the hero’s journey. A movie like The Force Awakens is a perfectly constructed script. You’re with the lead character from page one and a half. You’re already rooting for them. You’d do anything for them. They’re your hero. That’s great. That makes for movies that people never forget. But I also think the subtlety of just trying to illuminate some tiny, dingy corner of humanity — that stuff also sticks with people."
Did you always know you’d play Izzy?
"I did because on the page, women couldn’t stand her. Women that read the script — young, old, white women, women of color, gay women, straight women — they all hated Izzy. I think it’s because she was very clearly her own thing. She was not up for interpretation on the page. I knew I wanted to protect her. I wanted to come in and play her the way that I saw her in my head. I was like no, you don’t understand — she’s misunderstood. I don’t feel that way about all the things that I write. There’s a feature that I’m trying to get made in the fall. There’s a lead girl who’s around my age. She’s a fantastic character. If someone offered me that part I’d be like, hell yeah. But I don’t have to play her. She doesn’t need my assistance."
Your mom, Lea Thompson, directed this movie. How did this impact your relationship? Did anything surprise you?
"It was less about what surprised me and more about what I already knew that I was excited to see other people surprised by. So, my mom is an incredibly fierce creature. People know her as this sweet, kind, for lack of a better phrase 'girl next door' type of character. As a human being, she’s fearless in her aim. She’s tenacious. I was excited [for] people see that version of her. I already knew that stuff. There was nothing that surprised me on set."
I love your relationship with your sister in the movie. Can you speak to some fictional sisters that were an inspiration?
"Bar none, my favorite has to be Cat and Bianca Stratford in 10 Things I Hate About You. That is one of the most important movies of my youth. To me, it represents the kind of film that no one will make anymore. These super smart, sharp movies for young people with an actual budget."
What’s next for you?
"I’m going to make another feature film and do the score for it, again. But this time I’m going to direct it. I’m so excited for it. It’s on a much smaller scale. It takes place in one night. It’s kind of like an inverse Before Sunrise. It’s about a couple falling apart instead of falling in love."