Directed by: Brian Duffield
Written by: Brian Duffield
Starring: Katherine Langford, Charlie Plummer, Hayley Law
Brian Duffield has not had a great track record in scriptwriting, having had credits on Insurgent, Jane Got a Gun and Underwater. So him both writing and directing a film might seem like a recipe for failure. But Spontaneous is one of the best, if not the best, film of the year.
At a small town high school, a student Spontaneously Combustes out of nowhere. This then starts happening to other students, sending the town into a panic and forcing the government to deal with the situation through various means. Whilst this is going on, students Mara (Katherine Langford) and Dylan (Charlie Plummer) fall in love and must endure this escalating situation.
For a film with a dark and morbid setup, what is surprising is just how sweet yet also sad Spontaneous is. The romance at the center of the film is unbelievably adorable and the two lead characters are incredibly likeable, so as a result the film has a strong beating heart. Yet it is also a sad film with a lot of drama and weight, as the premise is often taken very seriously and used as a way to not only cue some very effective sequences, but also a way to talk about life and death.
For a writer who has had his name attached to mediocre fare, Brian Duffield’s screenplay is surprisingly amazing. It thankfully keeps the focus on the main characters rather that get tangled in the central concept (the kids exploding is more of a subjective metaphor), yet the plotting is also rather unpredictable and impactful, grabbing your attention and never letting you know what will happen next. The witty dialogue and visual gags are hysterical, with several laugh out loud moments and thankfully no mean-spiritedness. Finally, the blending of genres is impeccable, as Spontaneous balances teen romance, dark comedy and existential drama well without feeling disjointed.
But by far the best aspect is both it’s emotional and cultural relevance. The fact that this film was shot two years ago yet has only come out now seems like a scary coincidence, given the on-going but hopefully soon to end Pandemic, though that gives it more impact. And the message of this film is resonant regardless, the message being one that will not be spoiled. Some might find the film to be preachy and unsubtle with it’s message, but it’s told impactfully, with the final monologue being beautiful, hilarious and hard hitting.
As for the acting, Charlie Plummer is charismatic and lovable, but Katherine Langford gives the strongest performance of her career so far. Her combination of deadpan and goofy comedic delivery is amazing as is her dramatic delivery. She has so much charisma and brings an incredibly amount of soul to what could have just been a one-note "quirky girl", especially in a moment towards the end that will no doubt make you cry. Both have amazing chemistry and make their love story totally believable. The direction from Brian Duffield also impresses, there are a lot of cool stylistic camera-tricks and 4th wall breaks, yet he also knows when to keep the camera and let the material speak for itself. Finally, he knows how to use narration correctly without it being a distraction.
If there are any flaws, it is that the runtime is a bit too long and could have trimmed here and there, though that is a minor complaint. The film also does not have a traditional climax either, which might bother some who want a third act that is more action packed and eventful, but the character drama and story is strong and specific enough to where the inclusion of a grand finale would not have worked. This film is not about solving bad stuff, it is about dealing with bad stuff.
Spontaneous is a true gem, a funny, emotional and overall impressive achievement by Duffield, one that makes for a great debut and if time treats it well will end up becoming either an underrated masterpiece or a classic. Regardless, it is well worth the watch.