A part of me would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the crazy idea for “Spontaneous” was pitched to the studio heads. “It’s an adaptation of a book about high school students who inexplicably begin exploding in class. And I mean literally blowing up, spraying blood all over their classmates and sending the community into one big panic. Oh, and it’s also a teen love story”.
As nutty as it sounds, nothing in the above paragraph is untrue. “Spontaneous” is based on Aaron Starmer’s 2016 young adult novel about two high school seniors and their unexpected romance during the most unexpected of events. A terrific Katherine Langford plays Mara who is sitting in Calculus class bored out of her mind when suddenly her classmate Caitlyn “pops like a zit“. Not my words, that’s Mara vivid eyewitness description.
After the initial shock the kids from the classroom are quarantined as officials try to figure out the cause and more importantly if it will happen again. When it inevitably does the students must face the reality that any moment could be their last. During this time Mara hits it off with fellow classmate and outcast Dylan. He’s played by Charlie Plummer, so good in 2017’s “Lean on Pete”, solid but fairly ordinary here. Soon an unexpected romance blossoms as the two teens come to realize they must (of course) live for the moment.
Before anything else you have to get in sync with the movie’s tonal gymnastics. It’s literally all over the map: a brash teen comedy, a sudsy romance, blood-soaked horror, a coming-of-age story, a family drama, etc. Frankly its attempts at being so many things gets a little exhausting. At its core you can’t help but notice all the ingredients for a really fun and original dark comedy, but then it begins checking off far too many of the usual teen comedy boxes. And rather than coming natural, you can see the movie actively working to come across as rebellious and cool. This is most visible in Mara. Langford gives an eye-opening performance, but her character has so much swagger and attitude that it’s a breath of fresh air whenever she’s allowed to dial it back and be an actual person.
“Spontaneous” is the kind of movie that is sure to find an audience, but it’s skittish genre hopping could just as easily turn some people off. And for everything the movie does that’s fresh and original there is just as much that feels like well-worn ground. The saving grace is Katherine Langford who ably holds together a character who erratically bounces between grounded in the real world and made for the screen. Still, without question she’s a young actress to keep your eye on. “Spontaneous” is now available on VOD.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS