The Spectacular Now
2013 - 95 minutes
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Written by: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
(based on the novel by Tim Tharp)
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Brie Larson, Bob Odenkirk, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
“The Spectacular Now” is a refreshing-for-a-while teenager movie that has realistic high schoolers facing realistic problems. While that works up to a point, the filmmakers don’t seem to realize that “real” doesn’t have to be tedious.
Channeling late-1980s John Cusack, Miles Teller gives a fine performance as Sutter, a fast-talking 18-year-old functional alcoholic whose quick wit and constant drinking masks deep seeded abandonment issues. He lives with a mom that’s always at work and his dad hasn’t been in the picture for several years. An older sister lives in town, but is trapped in a comfortable yet boring marriage.
Constantly living in the moment, Sutter is the guy that’s always there for a good time, but when everyone around him is ready to move on, he’s just kind of stuck. He jokes with his Geometry teacher about not doing his homework – and the teacher is amused – but as the final approaches, it’s not as funny. Sutter’s the guy who’s antics are always fun until they’re not anymore.
After one particularly foggy night of drinking and breaking up with his popular girlfriend (Brie Larson), Sutter wakes up in an unfamiliar yard. His classmate Aimee (Shailene Woodley) is there to help him up. I guess this is the story they can tell their kids someday.
Aimee is largely invisible at school, content to operate in her small circle. The fact that she’s not aspiring to run with the cool crowd or get a makeover is a welcomed touch. She met this guy, they seem to get along and enjoy each other’s company so they start to hang out. It doesn’t hurt that she can tutor Sutter in Geometry.
What follows is a relationship born from a genuine respect and like of one another. Sutter helps Aimee loosen up a bit and Aimee shows Sutter there may be more to life than the now. Though the relationship doesn’t appear equitable – Aimee as a character is basically used to allow Sutter to better understand himself. That doesn’t flow the opposite direction.
As the relationship moves along, the film starts to drone on with scene after scene trying real hard to prove this isn’t the typical teenager movie. There’s a prom, but it’s not billed as the event of the year. The couple’s first sexual encounter is handled carefully to the point of feeling too sweet. Graduation is treated as the eventuality it really is and not a symbolic rite of passage. The only high point of this section of the film is a disappointing reconciliation with Sutter and his father (Kyle Chandler), who looks to have been stuck in the now for his whole adult life.
“The Spectacular Now” is commendable for not relying on melodramatic high points to punctuate the narrative, but watching Sutter drive drunk repeatedly without serious consequence or the audience never seeing Aimee as a person outside of her connection to him makes everything start to feel a little hollow. By the end it feels like there isn’t really a point in just observing them go through the motions; or their emotions.
© 2013 by Blake Crane