Film Review – The Spectacular Now
The Spectacular Now
The Spectacular Now has been making the film festival circuit for the past few months and is now coming to theaters across the US. The screenplay was written by Scott Neustadler and Michael H. Weber, from the novel of the same name by Tim Tharp. Both Neustadler and Weber wrote the (500) Days of Summer screenplay, and that is enough to bring fans of that film to see The Spectacular Now. It is directed by James Ponsoldt, who also made Smashed, another film festival darling. Having some great talent behind the camera solidifies the extraordinary performances of Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley as the main characters, Sutter and Aimee.
We can all remember the guy from high school who reminds us of Sutter. He’s a fun, party-hard, center-of-attention kind of guy. While Sutter is not the jock or the most handsome guy in his class, everyone knows him and is more than happy to hang out with him. But underneath that fun-loving exterior, Sutter has a huge drinking problem and some serious father issues. On a night when he gets so drunk that he basically blacks out, he ends up on the lawn of Aimee’s house the next morning. She awakens him, knowing full well who he is. Sutter, on the other hand, takes a few minutes to recall who she is, as she has stayed on the social periphery at school. A somewhat awkward friendship develops into a high school romance that no one in their lives would expect. They both change each other’s lives.
Other than the story, the rightful stars of this film are indeed Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. Teller is breaking out in a major way since his supporting roles in Footloose, Project X, and 21 & Over. This is his first major starring role, and he has the talent to carry the role of Sutter, since the role is both dramatic and comedic. He gives a depth to the role that not a lot of other young actors could pull off. He knows when to turn the comedic and sarcastic tone down. Woodley’s breakout role in The Descendants has led to a couple of major roles in big, upcoming films, but The Spectacular Now is the first to be released. There is a certain realism that she brings to the role of Aimee. Maybe it is because she is not as well-known yet, or she is still grounded in the real world versus Hollywood. She also portrays Aimee with some strength and vulnerability. It is only once Aimee enters a relationship with Sutter that we see what part of herself she is willing to give up. It’s always the guy that makes us girls change from our true selves, it seems.
The supporting cast is also just as great. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Sutter’s single working mom, who Sutter thinks is hiding his father from him. Kyle Chandler plays Sutter’s father, who is not who Sutter has built him up in his mind to be. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Sutter’s older sister, who has married well and lives quite the life of luxury. She tries to hide how her father has affected her life, but there is a glimpse of sadness. Brie Larson plays Sutter’s former girlfriend, who plainly is a little more popular and put together than Aimee.
You cannot see this film and not comment on the lack of makeup on Shailene Woodley. She wears absolutely no makeup for three-fourths of the film. This is not the no-makeup makeup look, but really no makeup. This is another realistic element in the film that even as a grown woman resonated with me. How many times do you see teenagers in a film with no makeup on? Hardly ever. In an interview with director James Ponsoldt, he revealed that Miles Teller also wore no makeup, so all of his scars and imperfections are also there on screen for all to see.
There are few issues with this film. Sutter’s drinking problem is never really addressed. He also pushes alcohol onto Aimee. While she is probably a willing participant, any effect the alcohol has on her is also never dealt with. Still, The Spectacular Now is a welcome addition to the realistic teen drama genre. If that genre does not exist yet, it needs to. The Perks of Being a Wallflower last year and now this film make a welcome and needed change to how teens and their problems are depicted in film. While films like She’s All That and Mean Girls are funny and worth a little escapism, they are not a real depiction of what happens in high school. I grew up going to a very large high school in Georgia with so many different kinds of kids. There was not one film during my high school days that resonated with me emotionally and that I could relate to as a teen, except for maybe the TV show My So-Called Life. Even now as an adult, Perks and The Spectacular Now are what I wish I had been able to see as a high schooler. If I did have older kids, I would make them see these films.
With all the ridiculous blockbuster films this summer, The Spectacular Now is one of those films that both teens and adults should not miss seeing in the theaters. There is something great about seeing a film that has a story that you can connect with in some way. Word of mouth on this little independent film is already spreading the good buzz, and this really is one that you should not miss.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with director James Ponsoldt.