The Spectacular Now
Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley
August 2, 2013
1 hour 35 minutes
Everyone's a teenager once in their lives. That's a pretty basic fact that not a lot of young adults ever really think about until their teenage years have passed. In the mean time, though, many teenagers like to live in the present and just have a fun time doing so. Sutter Keely, the main character in James Ponsoldt's "The Spectacular Now," is exactly that kind of guy. Everyone loves Sutter, and Sutter loves life. He is the type of guy that you can be great friends with, even if you just met him 10 minutes ago. He's the type of teenager that everybody wants to be like. At least, they want to be like him on the outside. On the inside of Sutter is a much darker and more complex character who sees something in Aimee Finickey, who finds him drunk and passed out on a random person's lawn after a night of heavy drinking and partying. These two characters, together, both change each other, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worst. "The Spectacular Now" delves into the last few months of Sutter's troubled senior year, consisting of a mixture of love, heartbreak, family, and alcohol, and winds everything together in such a realistic and relatable fashion, that makes the film overall work.
Probably the best thing to come out of the film is how real it feels in terms of its characters and its story. Screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter, best known for '(500) Days of Summer,' show what it's like to have a hot shot teenager get what he wants with consequences also given as a consolation "prize." Sutter is the type of character who teenagers, particularly ones who have been in or are in relationships, can relate to. As somebody who hasn't had a relationship yet, it was harder for me to relate to Sutter on that level. Having said that, there are other aspects of him that I found quite relatable to. Not quite as relatable as Charlie in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" was, but still pretty relatable. The situations that these characters get into together, like an argument in a car, for example, however are portrayed in a very realistic and sometimes heartbreaking light that even have an outcome that nobody would expect. I never read the original novel written by Tim Tharp, but I plan on doing so just so I can be with these characters some more. Speaking of which, the acting in this film is, as the title would suggest, spectacular.
Miles Teller, best known for films like "Footloose," "Rabbit Hole," and "Project X," gives a breakout performance as Sutter Keely. Throughout the movie, it is shown that he is the type of guy that anyone would want to be best friends with. At least, that's how he's shown on the outside. As the film progresses, we see a much more fragile and unstable character whose fear of turning into a monster leads him down a road of alcohol-enfused actions that slowly make him exactly what he fears to be. Teller is a powerhouse in this movie, especially in the third act, and his performance in this film proves that he is going to be a big star in his future. Shailene Woodley plays the unusual "nice" girl Aimee Finickey who later becomes the flame of Sutter's love life.
Woodley is one of Hollywood's rising young actors, and damn does she deserve to be. Her performance in this movie, while not as good as her breakout role in "The Descendants," is still fantastic, further proving why audiences are starting to fall in love with her. These two actors have such great chemistry together that it becomes almost heartbreaking when they have a fight. It's almost hard not to love their chemistry and love them as a couple because they just work so perfectly together. The rest of the performances, including Brie Larson and Kyle Chandler, are all great, but they're too small of roles to really go into full detail about. It's really Teller and Woodley's performances that help the film truly shine.
Director James Ponsoldt, like Stephen Chbosky, effortlessly understands what its like to be a teenager and to have teenager dilemmas that drive them onto the brink of insanity. He is able to bring the flawed but likable Sutter and Aimee to life in a way where we, the audience, can put our teenager selves into them to an extent. As I said before, Sutter didn't connect to me the way Charlie did in "Perks," but that didn't stop me from relating to him in some way, shape, or form. The way Sutter deals with school and life throughout the duration of the film is exactly how I treated my sophomore year of High School. As you could probably guess, that's not a good thing, but it is how I personally saw myself in Sutter. Getting back to Ponsoldt's direction, the way he shot every scene, orchestrated every actor's performance, was almost exactly how the life of a teenager is portrayed in reality. I haven't seen Ponsoldt's previous film "Smashed," but I can tell now that he is going to become a very notable name in the movie world thanks to this film.
It seems that coming of age/teen films are making a fairly strong comeback these days. The last time teen movies were able to tug at the heartstrings and bring adults back to their high school days was when coming of age god John Hughes ruled the teen scene. His films, while often humorous, had relatable characters who were in situations that the audience could put themselves in to. The best comparison to make to "The Spectacular Now" is "The Breakfast Club," and that's mainly due to the whole idea about teens not knowing what they want to do with their future. Basically, take Andrew and Bender from "Breakfast Club," combine them together, and hook them up with a nicer version of Allision from the same film, and that's basically what the love story of this film amounts to be. Overall, "The Spectacular Now" is an earnest, raw, and honest look at a teen's last few months of high school with a fantastic script, stellar acting, and many moments that will make you both smile and cry, sometimes even at the same time. Despite not being as fantastic as "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" was last year, this is a movie that all teens should try to seek out as the summer closes out.
'The Spectacular Now' screenwriter Michael H. Weber and I after a Special Advance Screening of the film in Montclair, NJ, as one of the closing night films of the 2nd Annual Montclair Film Festival!