The Spectacular Now

© 2013 Ray Wong

Coming of age movies are hot now, especially ones that have the pedigree of being adapted from a popular novel, such as last year's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Tim Tharp's The Spectacular Now rather falls in the same category but with an utterly different protagonist and a central love story that is both sweet and haunting.

Sutter (Miles Teller) is a popular teenager who strives to live in the moment without plan thoughts on his future. A senior, he hasn't even applied for college yet and has no idea whether he would even graduate high school. But life is good with girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) until a misunderstanding gives her a reason to break up with him and hook up with class president Ricky (Masam Holden).

Distraught, Sutter gets drunk and meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley) a sweet but average girl who goes to the same school as Sutter. Normally Sutter would not even look at someone like Aimee, but being in a tough spot of having just been dumped, Sutter becomes intrigued by Aimee, who is unlike any girl he's ever known. His strange urge to want to help Aimee come out of her shell eventually turns into affection for her -- she is, of course, already smitten with the popular yet previously unavailable Sutter.

But a rebound cannot end well. Sutter knows that and believes Aimee will forget about him soon enough. As Aimee falls deeper and deeper in love with him, Sutter becomes frightened of his own deepening feelings for the girl, and he starts to avoid her. At home, Sutter is also dealing with his own demon, a desire to try to locate and find his father (Kyle Chandler), who has abandoned the family since Sutter was a very young boy. To know who he is, Sutter desperately needs to know his father, as he's convinced that he is his father's son.

Miles Teller (Footloose) first burst into the business with his outstanding role in Rabbit Hole. Reminding us of a young Shia LaBeouf, Teller is a strong talent. He plays the complicated Sutter with an internal sweetness that we can't stop rooting for him even though he often acts like an irresponsible jerk. Sutter handles his aloof scenes just as well as he did with his emotional ones. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) was amazing in the Descendants. Here, she plays an utterly different character as the sweet, naive, smart but passive Aimee who is smitten with a boy who is not good for her.

Brie Larson (Don Jon) is sparkly and beautiful as Cassidy, the objective of Sutter's affection. Masan Holden (Forgotten Pills) has a brief but effective role as Sutter's best friend. By far the most recognizable stars of the movie are Kyle Chandler (Zero Dark Thirty) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Moment) as Sutter's estranged parents.

Adapted by Scott Neustadter ((500) Days of Summer) and Michael H. Webber ((500) Days of Summer), the screenplay stays true to the tone and dialogue of Tharp's YA novel. Neustadter and Webber are no strangers to stories about young love, and they deliver the central love story between Sutter and Aimee with great realism and sensibility. We have a feeling that Sutter is on a rebound and that Aimee should not fall in love with him and get hurt, and yet we also root for them to find themselves as they are good for each other (well, not all the time). The writers handle the "bad boy/good girl" story with delicate balance without being cliched and overwrought. The back and forth dance between the two leads is interesting to watch.

That said, the screenplay is not without flaws. The references to alcoholism and the reveal of Sutter's father are rather heavy-handed. The "father issue" subplot also feels somewhat out of place, even though it helps explain Sutter's character and his eventual awakening. Still, the subplot at times feels like a different movie, and would have benefited with more screen time and development for Chandler's and Leigh's characters.

Still, under James Pondsoldt's (Smashed) deft direction, the movie has a down to earth quality to it that grounds the sometimes obnoxious characters and storyline. Pondsoldt understands the material, and he keeps it real for the better part of the movie. The result is a likable summer sleeper about teen love and growing up. It may not be the most spectacular thing you see this summer, but go see it NOW anyway.

Stars: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Masam Holden, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Director: James Ponsoldt
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber (based on novel by Tim Tharp)
Distributor: A24
MPAA Rating:  R for alcohol use, language and some sexuality involving teens
Running Time: 95 minutes


Script - 8
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 7
Production - 8

Total - 7.8 out of 10.0 

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