THE SPECTACULAR NOW
2013, R, 99 mins.
2013, R, 99 mins.
Miles Teller as Sutter Keely / Shailene Woodley as Aimee Finicky / Brie Larson as Cassidy / Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter's Mother / Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Holly Keely / Kyle Chandler as Sutter's Father / Kaitlyn Dever as Krystal
Directed by James Ponsoldt / Written by Michael H. Weberand and Scott Neustadter, based on the book by Tim Tharp
I’ve see so many teen romance/coming-of-age films done so poorly over the last several years that it has all but soured me to the prospect of seeing new ones. Alas, along comes a little gem like THE SPECTACULAR NOW to all but restore my lost appreciation of the genre.
Most movies about
adolescent love and friendships feel artificially derived with characters
that are perfunctory instruments to drive the plot forward to a
predictable outcome. THE
SPECTACULAR NOW is such an atypical work for how it genuinely renders its
young characters and grounds them in a story that has tangible dramatic
weight and soulful introspection. It
honors and respects both audience members and its youthful characters, which
is ultimately refreshing in an age when young adult films seem beleaguered
with stale and lewd humor that cheapens their very existence.
crucially, THE SPECTACULAR NOW seems to understand - with razor sharp accuracy
and precision - the tumultuous ups and downs of teenage courtship and love.
It’s endlessly perceptive for how it evokes what it’s like to
truly become enraptured with someone else and, unavoidably, not
knowing what to do next when thorny complications rear their ugly heads.
The two people that fall in love in the film are also complexly
rendered and developed; their foibles and problems never feel like the
bi-product of a screenplay desperately trying to evoke manufactured
conflict or tension. In a way, the film takes a rather blunt and sometimes harshly
honest look at how teenagers view themselves, others, and their own place
in the world and thankfully avoids most of the pratfalls of other perfunctory
coming-of-age films. THE
SPECTACULAR NOW is certainly sweet and affecting in parts, but underneath
that lays a core of understanding for the faults and insecurities of its
characters that so many other similar films lack.
also most likely won’t find two more convincingly evoked and emotionally
raw performances in any film from this year than what Miles Teller and
Shailene Woodley offer us here.
Teller plays Sutter Keely, a very popular 18-year-old high school
senior on the cusp of graduation. He
has a veneer of kindness and consideration, but that’s just a sly front,
as he feigns it in order to get closer to girls.
Despite his arrogance, Sutter is a relatively self-assured and
confident young man that certainly has a whole future in front of him.
There’s one problem, though: he seems to hardly give a damn about
the future. He’s also a
budding alcoholic, rarely spending a minute of the day (or moment in this
film) when he’s not reaching for his whiskey flask or secretly spiking
his soft-drink beverages. For
a guy that apparently has it all, Sutter secretly lives an existence of
Sutter’s complete unwillingness to commit to any kind of future leads to
obstacles with his current girlfriend (Brie Larson), who very quickly
dumps him as a result. To
make matters worse, Sutter’s home life is lacking as well, seeing as
he has always been resentful of his mother's (Jennifer Jason Leigh)
unwillingness to reveal where his long-estranged father has been living for
years. As Sutter’s life
further spirals out of control, he turns to even more drinking and
reckless behavior. One
morning he finds himself waking up in a strange front yard, obviously
passing out from intoxication. He
is awoken by Aimee Finicky (Woodley) while she’s out doing her morning
paper route. Although sparks
don’t immediately spring between the pair, they do develop an odd bond
very early on: He agrees to help her with her morning route and she’s
just happy to have company, being a fairly introverted and shy girl.
They becomes friends, but the more time they spend together the more their
platonic relationship becomes a romantic one.
Sutter’s friends chastise him for “using” an innocent girl
like Aimee as a quick rebound girl, whereas Aimee’s friends warn her
about hooking up with a womanizing hound that is Sutter.
Despite their obvious difference, Sutter and Aimee find themselves
falling for one another and help each other through their own respective
and deeply rooted insecurities. Their
budding love is hurt by a few things: (a) Sutter’s continued
unwillingness to look beyond the “now” and into a bright future and
(b) his torn feelings over his father, which spills over when he does
discover from his sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) his actual
SPECTACULAR NOW was directed by James Ponsoldt from a screenplay by Scott
Neustadter and Michael W. Weber (who previously penned the great (500)
DAYS OF SUMMER) and it appears that they all are attempting, I
think, to bring back a level of credibility to this genre that has been
woefully lacking for quite some time.
Ponsoldt populates his film with actors that look, feel, and sound
like teenagers as opposed to – as so many other films do – getting
older actors trying to inhabit the minds and bodies of young people. Beyond the film’s dramatic verisimilitude, THE SPECTACULAR
NOW has spontaneity with its characters and story that never makes it feel
like you know precisely where it’s headed next.
You also gain an immediate understanding of all of the faults and
shortcomings of the film’s characters.
It’s not that Sutter and Aimee are dislikeable characters, per
se, but they are not squeaky clean and perfectly adjusted people.
Their tribulations make them come off as more easily relatable and
real as characters.
can’t imagine any other actors other than Miles Teller and Shailene
Woodley in this film, as they are both able to forge and sustain such an
unmistakable level of unforced chemistry. They collectively seem to make Sutter and Aimee both
imminently relatable as characters as well as ones that feel lived-in to
the point where you never doubt their veracity on screen.
Aimee and Sutter feel like believable people with believable
issues and believable
concerns. Teller – the
wonderful performer from RABBIT HOLE – manages to find a damaged heart
and insecure vulnerability in his otherwise cocky and rebellious character.
And Woodley – remember her fine work in THE
DESCENDANTS? – has a manner of inhabiting every single scene
she’s in with Teller with such a disarming sincerity.
It’s pretty thankless for actors in relative career infancy
to give such grounded performances as what's on display here.
will have problems with this film’s ending – not to give away
anything, mind you – but I for one found it both fittingly and
meaningfully ambiguous. Sutter
and Aimee are characters that are somewhat aimless; they don’t fully grasp where they are headed, and nor should the film’s screenplay.
The title of the film reflects the mindset that the best year of
one’s life was the one spent during the last year of high school (live
in the now so you don’t regret it later).
Yet, the irony of the film is that there are ample amounts of
searing anxiety and uncertainty about both the now and the future for both
Sutter and Aimee as they try to not only deal with their own hardships,
but also try to become more fully self-actualized people in the process.
How truly wonderful is it for a film like THE SPECTACULAR NOW to
invest in its young characters and value them as much as the adult ones?
This is one of the best movie portraits of adolescent love –
warts and all – that I’ve seen.