Movie review: The Spectacular Now

05:00 AM, Aug 22, 2013

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in 'The Spectacular Now.' (AP)/


Written By Bill Goodykoontz | Gannett Chief Film Critic

Critics rating: 9

One of the most satisfying things about watching The Spectacular Now is thinking, “I’ve seen this movie before,” one that touches on seemingly every aspect of the teen coming-of-age genre.

And then realizing you haven’t.

James Ponsoldt’s film, and its stars, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, continually take us in unexpected directions, giving the film an unexpected depth. It feels real, its emotions earned. It shies away from the Big Dramatic Moment for the most part, instead doling out little victories and small defeats, which is similar to the way most of us experienced our teen years.

Sutter (Teller) is the smooth-talking kid who has an answer for everything, makes friends easily, seems to be gliding through life. He’s reminiscent of John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything.

Until he isn’t. Sutter always has a soft-drink cup with him, and that cup always has booze in it. Beers are always around, because his single mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works a lot. He doesn’t get trashed, at least not too often, but seems to operate at a slight buzz most of the time.

And he’s a senior in high school.

Sutter really does tie one on the night his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) breaks up with him. He wakes up in the front yard of a home he doesn’t recognize, with Aimee (Woodley) standing above him. He doesn’t really know her, but she knows who he is. She doesn’t run with the popular crowd. She’s quiet, studious and polite.

She helps Sutter find his car, and he asks if she’d like to do something sometime. You think, oh no. The cool kid is going to string along the socially awkward girl and break her heart, just like in countless other movies.

But things don’t really happen that way. These are two kids who are wounded, in Sutter’s case, damaged. Parent issues abound. Yet there are no mopey scenes or miracles of self-discovery. They help each other muddle through. Problems? You bet. No relationship is perfect, and Ponsoldt doesn’t try to alter that reality.

It’s important to stress how good Teller and Woodley are here. These are relatable characters, with recognizable behaviors and characteristics.

Instead, they behave like real people, people we care about. The Spectacular Now is one of those sneaky movies that you enjoy while you’re watching but has depth that reverberates long after you’ve left the theater.