The Spectacular Now (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Sutter (Miles Teller) has problem only he is not aware of it. The whirlwind that is senior year has arrived and his peers are eager to move on to the next chapter. Meanwhile, Sutter insists on living in the now and does so by holding onto his hip flask. Taking it out, turning the cap, and pouring the contents onto a plastic cup is almost automatic. It helps to keep things that bother him at bay. Before her newspaper run, Aimee (Shailene Woodley) finds Sutter passed out on her yard. Even though they have been classmates for years, it is the first time they get a chance to really see one another. Aimee is far from the kind of girl Sutter falls for, but there is something about her that he finds alluring.
“The Spectacular Now,” based on the novel by Tim Tharp and adapted to the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, pierces through the fog of fake, shallow, commercialized teen comedy-dramas and delivers something that, in my opinion, will stand the test of time. On the surface, it might appear to just be another story about a teenager who is afraid of the future so he uses alcohol as a tool to not have to deal with the inevitable. While that is a good starting point, it strives to become so much more.
We get a chance to appreciate why Sutter and Aimee might be a great fit. Right away, we come to understand that Aimee is a person of substance. She is written and played smart but it is the type of intelligence that does not fit the stereotype—so-called nerdy glasses, appearance needing a makeover, awkwardness in the body language. Aimee being smart is communicated through the feeling we get while watching her interact with others.
Meanwhile, Sutter knows exactly what to say and when. We see why guys and girls in his class are drawn to his enthusiasm and ability to entertain. I liked that he is one of the popular guys but he is not a jerk. He can be thoughtful. He can be that guy you can ask to be alone with you and share what’s on your mind—and he will take what you have to say seriously. In other words, there is a reason why just about everyone loves him.
We also get a chance to consider why they might not be a good fit. Sutter claims he is content with where he is in life, but Aimee yearns to do more. I admired that the material juggles tenderness, sweetness, and realism with ease. As a dime a dozen bland, boring, worthless teen pictures have shown, it is far from the easiest task to accomplish. Here, there is not one montage designed to show that the pair is “destined” for each other. Due to the significant differences in their personalities, perspectives, and ambitions, the possibility that what we are seeing is only a temporary experience lingers.
I also enjoyed how Sutter’s ex-girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), is treated by the film. She could have been a one-dimensional mean girl, raging with jealousy every time she sees Sutter and Aimee having fun or just being content to sit next to each other in silence. Instead, Cassidy is treated like a person with real thoughts and concerns. In some ways, she has outgrown Sutter. She knows it—and he knows it, too. As a result, real pain is communicated in their break-up. Looking into what they had becomes worthy our time.
Directed by James Ponsoldt, “The Spectacular Now” underlines humanity above all else. Some scenes are so authentic, I could not help but notice the actors not wearing any makeup at all. Somehow, that made me feel closer to the picture and I suspect others are likely to feel the same. It has been only a year since Stephen Chbosky’s wonderful “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” so I did not expect to encounter such a fresh voice about young adults so soon. It is a most wonderful surprise.