‘The Spectacular Now’ Movie Review – Living in the Now
There is one area, in my opinion, that movies rarely get right – high school. Maybe I had a different high school experience, but Hollywood doesn’t seem to have a pulse on what it’s really like, usually conforming to stereotypes that are both exaggerated and completely untrue. The Spectacular Now is a high school story, but it doesn’t dumb itself down…instead, it presents an honest narrative that proves high school problems are legitimately real-life problems. This is all done with great lead performances and one of the most genuine coming-of-age tales to date.
Directed by James Ponsoldt (Smashed) and written by 500 Days of Summer scribes Scott Neustradter and Michael Weber, The Spectacular Now is mainly about the unique relationship between high school seniors Sutter (Miles Teller), a charismatic and fun-loving party animal, and Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a shy 4.0 student.
Not only do they take their schooling differently, but they differ on their life mentality. While Aimee is constantly thinking about the future, Sutter vehemently believes he should live in the now – or “the spectacular now.” Although it seems like a flawed philosophy, he certainly has a point that spending your time both on the past and future wastes the here and now.
Alcohol also plays a part in the story, but I hesitate even mentioning it because I think it’s an easy crutch to lean on when the story is not about alcoholism. It’s about so much more than this. It’s about a boy trying to grow up. It’s about a boy trying to figure out why he is the way he is. It’s about a boy desperately trying to find a purpose for his life because, despite what other people see in him, he knows deep down the truth about himself. Ponsoldt may be known for using alcohol in his stories (both Off the Black and Smashed), but again this is about so much more.
The deeper the movie gets, the less it seems like a teen movie. It features teenagers and high school but it is a grown-up story. To me, that’s a good thing. It’s an honest representation of problems adolescents can face, but it also has the potential to generalize with older audiences.
Honesty is a big part of this film, too, because, like with the alcohol aspect of the story, it’s not a film with a particular message in mind. It presents two vastly different characters and one muddled (codependent?) relationship to challenge the audience to come up with their own conclusion. This lends to both a great story and a thought-provoking conversation afterward.
Honesty also comes through with the performances. Woodley is easy to praise because, quite simply, she’s a great actress. In The Spectacular Now, she rarely dons make-up or shows off her beautiful self. Instead, she looks like the character she’s supposed to play.
Teller, though, deserves the most recognition for playing his character spot-on. They noticeably show off his natural scars (he was almost killed in a car accident years ago) as both a metaphor for his character and a reminder that people actually look like this. More than just his look, though, Teller should be considered a viable contender for Best Actor this awards season. Although I ultimately don’t think it’ll play out that way, he looked so free and comfortable in his role.
Credit is due to Kyle Chandler (NBC’s Friday Night Lights) for his small, but heartbreaking, role as Sutter’s father. Powerful stuff.
Powerful is a great way to describe The Spectacular Now. If only given a one sentence synopsis – a high school alcoholic who falls for his polar opposite – I wouldn’t blame you for turning away. The same could’ve been said back in 2009 with 500 Days of Summer. However, neither highlights the great script, compelling performances, and surprisingly deep narrative that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
The Spectacular Now is available this weekend in limited release for New York and Los Angeles audiences. It’ll release into more theaters starting August 9th. For full release info, click here.
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