'The Spectacular Now' is just that and then some
05:00 AM, Aug 01, 2013
It’s one thing to live in the moment. It’s another thing to be stuck in it and dodging the future.
The Spectacular Now (* * * * out of four; rated R; opens Friday in select cities) is a wryly funny, compassionate and wise portrait of teens on the cusp of adulthood.
Miles Teller is terrific as Sutter Keely, an underachieving high school senior whose easygoing charm makes him well-liked but not taken seriously. He’s the fun-loving guy who drinks too much at parties.
Sutter wakes up one morning, passed out on a lawn he doesn’t recognize. Standing over him is sweetly innocent Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley).
A top student, Aimee is sunny and hardworking. Sutter is an upbeat guy with a ready quip. But there’s a dark side underlying his carefree charm. He lives in the now because he can’t conceive of a future.
A budding alcoholic, Sutter brings a flask filled with whiskey nearly everywhere to his part-time job at a men’s clothing store and when he gets behind the wheel.
Will Aimee’s influence set Sutter straight? Or will he break her heart and head down the ne’er-do-well path taken by his estranged dad (Kyle Chandler)?
One of the summer’s best films, Spectacular Now has a combustible combination of fabulous performances, pitch-perfect script and deft direction. Filmmaker James Ponsoldt is ideally suited to bring to life the nuanced screenplay, adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who wrote the wonderful (500) Days of Summer.
Teller and Woodley’s chemistry is strikingly convincing. With her guileless smile, Woodley is wondrously natural, perhaps even better than in her superb performance in The Descendants. Aimee may be smart and quiet, but she’s not socially awkward. She’s a well-rounded, non-stereotypical character, comfortable in her own skin and openhearted. Teller has the charismatic appeal of a young John Cusack. The pair received a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year for their performances.
Everything about this film feels authentic. When his boss (Bob Odenkirk) tells Sutter that he needs to promise to come to work sober, Sutter refuses to give him that assurance. He knows himself too well. The boss points out that if he were Sutter’s father, this would be the moment he would give him a lecture. Sutter’s reply is heartbreaking: “If you were my father, you wouldn’t need to.”
If this were a less blisteringly honest film, his boss might make an overture to play surrogate dad. Loose ends would be neatly tied up. Instead, Sutter simply walks out of the store. It’s painfully sad, but it feels like an exchange between real people, not characters in a movie.
This soulful and sincere portrait of youth doesn’t gloss over painful truths or focus on the sensational, superficial or raucous aspects of adolescence. It doesn’t traffic in teen clichés. Rather, it compassionately conveys the confusion, insecurities and joys that are a quintessential part of being 18.
It’s rare for a film about teenagers to feel this mature.