Despite what you might think from its title, The Year of Spectacular Men is about anything but men. Sure, they're present on a superficial level, but take a closer look, and you'll realize that the film's men are mostly foils for protagonist Izzy Klein's journey toward growth and self-awareness. From the toxic ex to the emotionally stunted work crush, the idea that these men could ever be considered "spectacular" hints at the tongue-in-cheek tone of Madelyn Deutch's script. But that's precisely what she intended to do with this women-led indie, which aims to be a deep, nuanced dive into the coming-of-age of complicated millennial women.
Starring Madelyn as Izzy and her real-life sister Zoey as Sabrina, Madelyn's aim with this film was not only to give voice to the multidimensional, millennial women she feels are being shut out of Hollywood narratives, but to also spotlight the power of strong female relationships between sisters, mothers, and daughters. Ultimately, the 27-year-old believes that these familial ties are of utmost importance to a young woman's growth, and even help when it comes to navigating those romantic relationships in your 20s which, more often than not, tend to be riddled with mistakes, projections, and the kind of unhealthy idealism that leads some to pursue things that are obviously not right for them. And while that may seem daunting, Madelyn has some valuable insight into the messiness of being a young woman today. Read our Q&A with her below to learn more.
Tell me a little bit about what it was like writing the script for this film. It felt very personal—did you draw from a lot of personal experience?
The movie was inspired by [certain] events. As you go through drafts and drafts and draft and drafts, it begins to look a lot less like anything resembling real life. And it is certainly not autobiographical. But, the way I began to write the script [was I started thinking about how] one of the things that's been a huge affliction on our generation is we were all told that college was the thing. That if we just got into a great college, when we graduated, we'd be set up. And, it was such a lie. It's the biggest con.
And, I think the other thing that was devastating about it to me is that I am a person of privilege. I could afford to go to college and get out, and have not liked college and gotten out and been bummed. But what about these millions of American kids who can't afford to go to college and have no help? Who got out with a hundred thousand dollars in student debt when the economy tanked in 2008? I could go on and on, but I just think that all that socio-economic stuff is what makes millennials who they are. We are the way that we are for a reason. And the older generation wants to tell us that we're just, like, lazy and annoying, and it's like, no, there's a historical reason we are this way.
I was that millennial who got a degree and got out of college and was like, "Oh, I literally have no idea what I'm gonna do.” The rug gets pulled out from under you, and you're just standing there like, "What am I gonna do with my life?” And so, I did kind of the only thing I've ever known how to do, which is write. I've always been a writer, I've kept journals since I was seven. I used to write songs to get out of doing math assignments. I used to write creative short stories to not have to write essays in English, you know? So, I started writing about it, and the writing process for me just began with taking some of the most embarrassing and upsetting and crazy things that I had gone through my first year out of college, and I used them as a framework. Then, I started building a narrative around that.
So, you also puked in a ceramic pot at one point like your character Izzy?
I didn't puke in a ceramic, but I do love that you mention that... IRL, I have not actually puked in a ceramic vessel. But, I have projectile vomited in places where I shouldn't. The best was this one crappy diner in L.A. when I was like 15. I probably just drank too much or something, but I remember eating an entire jar of pickles and a full-on Belgian waffle and just being like, "Excuse me," and projectile vomiting all over the bathroom.
That is quite the combo.
That should be in the movie, what's wrong with me? Just thinking about it now, I want to die.
Were there any other real things that happened to you that did make into the movie?
The going down the mountain in a gurney actually happened to my sister. That was a story I stole from her. Her boyfriend at the time took her up to the top of Whistler in Vancouver, and she was like, "I don't ski.” He was like, "No problem, you got this,” and like took her all the way up the mountain. And then she was like, "I literally can't get down the mountain, you have to take me down in a burrito.” That really happened, but not to me.
Was there a particular moment that you wrote that you were like, "This really hit home and reminds me of something that did happen to me?”
Probably my favorite scene in the movie is the fight between me and [Izzy’s ex, Aaron] after the party. We're yelling at each other on the street and he says, “I know you just left the party to go suck [your new boyfriend]'s dick.” That scene is super-special to me, even though it's so gnarly. Because when I wrote it, I was like, "This is not a joke.” Like, this is the way that people treat each other when something is amiss. This is real-life shit—a true argument. And I've had arguments like that. I remember thinking, if we shoot this and it's really real and it makes it into the movie and doesn't get chopped up, I'll be really proud of that. Because, to me, that scene represents the sexual politics between two people in such an accurate way. I've been in that situation so many times. So when I watch that scene, I'm really proud of the work that we did, because that feels so authentic to me.
Especially considering the fact that between most young, hetero couples, the default insult seems to be slut-shaming the women–for, like, nothing. There’s all this misplaced anger.
For nothing! And also, that he thinks that that is gonna lead to them hooking up is like… [the] games in sexual politics! But it's like, we all do it. We all do it with different people. We've all been the perpetrator, we've all been the victim. It's just part of dating, it's part of being in your 20s. But, with that scene in particular, I was really trying to represent the kind of craziness that can happen with two people.
On that note, watching this, I was struck by how all these people are so fucking awful. What was it like writing all these fuckbois?
Have you heard about the softboy yet? Have you read that article? I'm about to hit up [the writer] on Instagram and be like, "Can we be best friends?" because I think it's one of the best-written pieces I've seen written in years. I think it's genius. I've been sending it around to literally everyone I know, because it was so representative of me and so many people that I've dated.
Izzy can be quite a fuckgirl herself. She has definitely the ability to pivot in that way. I think there were moments when I started writing the script where I set out to be like, "I'm gonna write all these characters in all their intricacies and eccentricities and all their stuff that's messed up,” and then I realized I really had to do that with her, too. She's incredibly flawed. She is so insecure and lost. Kind of rudderless. So, to my mind, she looks for that kind of complication, too. That's part of the realization she comes to at the end of the film—she's been such an equal player. So for me, it was about writing about everyone in their fuckery, not just the boys.
It feels like everyone in their 20s—myself included—make these questionable decisions that are rooted in the idea that we tend to put a lot of our own value within our relationships, which is something you kind of need to learn to grow out of.
Oh, of course. I think women are raised to think that their value is in somebody wanting them, which is terrible. It's like this societal curse that's been put on our head, and it sucks. Hopefully, the generation under us won't grow up with quite as much of that. I know my mom's generation thinks we're doing pretty good. But I think seeking outside validation is... I don't think you ever totally get away from it. Especially in your 20s when you're lost and can't figure out what you want to do with your life, that's the first thing you go to, right? You're like, "How do I get someone to tell me that I matter?"
I feel like that leads a lot of people to get to this point where they're either hopping from person to person to find that validation or get stuck in a horrible co-dependent relationship.
Totally! I have a lot of girlfriends who never really dated. And now, they've been with the same guy for a long time, and they're nearing their late-20s, and everyone's kinda looking around, going like, "Is this it?" Or, "Am I supposed to get out this now and do the search for real?" Or, "Is this the thing?" I don't envy anyone in that position at the end of your 20s.
I think two things happen at the end of your 20s. Option A: You're asking yourself who you wanna spend all your time with, and what kind of person deserves you and what kind of quality of life you want to have. Or, option B: Maybe I don't need any of that, and maybe I want to go careening into my 30s kind of solo. So, I think there's, like, a fork in the road that happens.
What are you leaning toward?
It's so funny, because I don't think I'm a lot like Izzy. She's a lot nicer than me, and I think she's more hopeful than me. She's a little pluckier than me. I have the ability to be a negative thinker and a mercurial artist and kind of deep in my own stuff, but one similarity we really share is the tendency to look outside ourselves for validation and confirmation and for affirmation—I look outside myself for all the 'mations. It's actually so interesting that you asked this because, three or four months ago, I just really made a decision for the first time in my life that it's not working out that way and hasn't worked out that way so far for me. Like, it's really time to turn the lens on myself and look inward. I hate that because it sounds cheesy and trite, and it sounds like all the shit that everyone in their 40s and 50s says to you when you're a teenager, and you're like, "I don't understand what you're talking about, what do you mean?" But then you get in your late 20s, and you're like, "Damn it, they were right" It's one of those old cliches that is a cliche for a reason. Just like, trying to work on myself.
It's like you grow up and everyone's like, "You know, sometime you'll have to work on yourself..."
... "You have to walk away." And you're always like, "Okay, Sparky, this is stupid." But no, it's 100 percent real, and it's really painful.
I think you have to go through a pretty low moment to really realize that also.
I think you do. In order to truly turn the lens on yourself, you have to essentially hit some kind of emotional bottom, where you are awakened. Because the realization that you're coming to is that it didn't work the way that it's been going. I don't think anyone really makes a change until they get really desperate for change.
For sure. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I just hope that millennial girls buy this and want to watch it. I think it devastates me that this is a demographic that no one seems to wanna make movies for.
Why do you think that's the case?
I don't know, I mean my mom always says that women in film go from being virgins to mothers. They go from being in high school to being 35 and either married with children or 35 and looking for love. They miss an entire decade. I don't know where they think women go.
Maybe people don't want to explore the messiness of women?
I think so. I mean, the truth is that when Izzy was a character on paper, young women who read the script were almost infuriated by her—by her choices, by why she did what she did, by who she was—they were very confused by her. And to me, that was even more ammo to keep pushing it forward because I was like, "If this is a character that's being represented all the time, people would be like, 'Oh yeah, I've seen that before.'”
I mean, honestly, I had to kind of stop myself from being like, "I'm so annoyed," but it was also, like, maybe that's my own internalized bullshit. Maybe I just like connect way too hard.
I love that you say that, because I think that it's true. Sometimes I think people say that about girls. Like, people are really mean about girls, and I think that it's because there's a lens on it that is really particular. Lena [Dunham]'s a genius, she focused in on stuff that people did not want to talk about. I just think that she wanted to deal with stuff that no one wants to deal with. I don't know why people don't want to deal with women in their 20s, I think they're probably the most fascinating characters, so rife with conflict and contrast. So that's really my mission and my crusade. This is for women who don't really have much to watch. I don't have anything to watch. Every time I go on a platform, I'm like, "Where is my show?"
Every meeting I go into when I do a pitch meeting as a writer, I go in and I always go, "Where is there a TV show for women in their 20s?" And, they go,"Girls." And, I go, "So that's lovely, but Girls is over now." And then they go, "Okay, well Search Party.” And I go, "Can you name me one more?" And they can't. And, even if there is one or two more, is three enough? That's ridiculous.
I'm constantly asking these questions, and people are always doing this sort of slow blink at me because they can't compute that what I'm saying is the truth. They can't believe that it could be true. It's a crazy hole in the market, it's a crazy blind spot that people have in our business. It's really sad, but I think that's why we need more young women to be out here on the soapbox with the loud speaker, going, "Guys, this is an issue.” But, I'm also kind of glad that it irked you because, I think, sometimes that means it touches something true.
The Year of Spectacular Men is in theaters and available OnDemand now.