I have been very vocal about my feelings for screenwriter Brian Duffield.
I am a devoted Brian Duffan (that’s what we call ourselves).
Unlike Dean Craig (writer of Love. Wedding. Repeat. (2020)), who I found out about accidently and didn’t realise how much I liked him until after I had already loved three of his movies, Brian Duffield is a writer that I have actively sought out. One of my best friends told me about how much I would love his writing, and after watching The Babysitter (2017), I totally saw why.
Since then, I’ve read his scripts, loved his movies, hated that one sequel to one of his movies, but I've always wondered whether they would all be better if he'd directed them himself. Jane Got a Gun (2015) was a notoriously terrible time for him, and I’ve been nervous about Love and Monsters (2020) since I saw the trailer (I’ll get to it… eventually), but lo and behold, out of the darkness of 2020, shines a bright light at the end of the tunnel: Spontaneous (2020).
A movie finally written AND directed by Brian Duffield; all of my dreams have come true.
Pictured: My mind when there's four Brian Duffield films in one year, and he even directs one.
Or at least one dream.
I have more dreams than this.
I’m not that pathetic.
STOP JUDGING ME!
So, it’s not actually a 100% Brian Duffield joynt. It’s actually an adaptation of an unconventional YA novel by Aaron Starmer. However, that’s no reason for me, a devoted BD VIP (that’s what we call ourselves), to be worried. This story is pure Duffield.
Kind of like a twisted John Green book, Spontaneous (2020) follows two teens who fall in quirky love with each other when they are both faced with a seemingly inevitable short lifespan. Except, in this case it’s not cancer, suicide or another suicide, it happens to be that any teen, at any time, could spontaneously explode in a geyser of blood.
Pictured: a natural everyday occurrence.
What follows is a dark, yet comedic, yet gory, yet fun, yet still-it’s-a-funny-type-of-gory-I-swear, yet touching coming-of-age story. It’s the sort of elevator pitch that would make me laugh but, Brian Duffield being Brian Duffield, makes it so much more than that. You get to see how these events impact the community on a macro scale, but also how they affect our characters at a micro scale. The absolute randomness of the explosions keep you tense all the way through, and no definitive reason is truly given for them, so you don’t feel the need to pick apart the technicalities of it.
That was my problem with something like Us (2019); by giving a definitive answer to the plot, I couldn’t help but think about how it literally didn’t make sense. I loved Us (2019) on a thematic level, but from a plot perspective, it doesn’t work. Spontaneous (2020) gives you enough answers to let you draw your own conclusions, but by not giving you the definitive answer, you can’t be like “ah, well, actually, that would mean that blahblahblah. Therefore she should have exploded at the very start."
Pictured: Quirky love.
And that way, I’m not distracted from the thematic meanings behind the film.
Boy, oh boy, this movie has a lot to say. Don’t get me wrong, Young Adult novels and movies by people like John Green have their place, and I don’t blame anyone for loving them. It’s just, you know, I’ve become jaded and bitter with my age, so they just don’t do it for me. If you want to get through to me, you’ve gotta make it fun, and if you can talk about the unnecessary pressure we put on high schoolers, the existential dread of grief and the ineptitude of how the government can handle a pandemic, all while having fun? Then, damn. Colour me interested.
And yeah, that last one may have been more of an unintended viewpoint, seeming the movie was shot last year at least. But damn, is it not relevant today?
Pictured: Quirky love in a pandemic.
Hell, the whole film hits all new thematic resonance when you view it in the middle of a pandemic. I mean, there’s a whole scene about how the character doesn’t want to apply for colleges because she might be dead before then, and holy sh*t did that hit hard in 2020.
It being unintended makes it feel less as-sublte-as-slapping-you-over-the-head-with-leg-of-ham, unlike, I dunno, Songbird (202X), a Michael Bay produced film about the terrors of Covid-23. This feels like a real story, with real themes, that someone wanted to talk about. It just so happened to coincide with an incredibly relevant time in our history.
Pictured: Apparently, I'm saying this is subtlety.
As any avid Bri-hard (that’s what we call ourselves) will tell you, Brian Duffield is a master of tone. It’s what makes his scripts so easy to read, even for the layman. Of all the scripts I’ve read though, I've gotta say, he picked the hardest one to make his directorial debut. I mean, DAMN. You’ve gotta make exploding teenagers both fun enough to draw people in, but sad enough to keep them staying? That’s one big job.
Thankfully, he holds his own. This film would have fallen apart in all categories if it weren’t for his playful mastery of tone. Of course, it’s a team effort, and everything came together from all courts. The cinematography, the music, the acting. I know Katherine Langford is already very well known for 13 Reasons Why (2017-2020), a series that I’ve ignored for reasons I feel I’ve already made clear here, but I've personally only really seen her in Knives Out (2019) where she played a character that I hated incredibly well. In Spontaneous (2020) she plays that perfect blend of dry wit and quirk that suits a stereotypical teen-cancer-YA-story, but with a combination sarcasm and scary alcoholism which gives it something more. Seeing her spiral was both fun and engaging, and heart-wrenching at the same time.
In terms of the cinematography, look: I’m completely biased when it comes to wide angle close ups. A well timed wide angle close up is a chef's kiss to me. I’m sure there were other things going on, but the only thing that I wrote in my notes was “wide angle close up chef's kiss” so I guess that’s all I’ve got.
Pictured: Quirky love to classic rock.
The rhythm and pacing is absolutely on point. I listened to a few interviews with Duffield, and he did mention that scenes were cut wholesale due to legal reasons or weather continuity, so the fact that any of it works is amazing to me. For anyone who wants to be a film maker, look at the way he uses scene transitions. Not just in the film, but they’re on the page, in the script. They’re important, and the pacing of this movie sings thanks to them.
If you told me that one of my favourite films this year would be a movie where forty teenagers blow up, I would say, “yeah, that sounds like something I would do.”
Even if I wasn’t a dedicated Bri-fan (that’s what we call ourselves) I would have been all over this movie like splattered blood in a high school. I laughed, I cried, I held the edge of my seat hoping another person wouldn’t explode, or at least, if someone did, it wasn’t someone I cared about.
After the disappointment of The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020), this was absolutely the breath of fresh mouthwash I needed. Of course, now, I still have to watch the obviously rewritten and renamed Love and Monsters (2020). I mean, if it sucks, at least I had two good Brian Duffield films this year. I liked Underwater (2020) and I loved Spontaneous (2020).
His next film, Vivien Hasn’t Been Herself Lately (202X) looks like it’s also directed by him, so it appears that things are finally on the up and up. Fingers crossed he gets to make Your Bridesmaid is a Bitch himself.
Pictured: I dunno, just watch the damn movie.
Spontaneous is available for renting or buying all over the interwebs. If you're really lucky, become a Duff-phile (that's what we call ourselves) and follow Brian Duffield on Twitter @BrianDuffield; he sometimes Tweets out an access code to view the movie for free.