The Spectacular Now was shown as part of the Roger Ebert Film Festival in Champaign, Illinois followed by a Q&A with the director and star Shailene Woodley. This review is from that showing. The film will be released theatrically later this year.The Spectacular Now, the wonderful new film by director James Ponsoldt is the first romantic dramedy that I have seen that I have wanted the girl to run far away from her love instead of to him. While it is about teenagers it is anything but a teenage film. The themes of growing up, dependence (emotional and chemical) and not becoming your parents are deeper than typical films in this genre and earns the comparisons to John Hughes films and Say Anything that the movie will most likely receive.
Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is the life of the party where ever he goes. Fun loving, charismatic and full of heart, Sutter is the kind of guy you would love to hang out with but one where you could never truly trust. The movie starts out with Sutter newly dumped by Cassidy (Brie Larson) because she is thinking about the future while Sutter is happy living “in the now.” Sutter is not taking the break-up well and after a night of heavy drinking is woken up the next morning by Aimee Finicky (the magnificent Shailene Woodley). This could be seen as a “meet cute” in typical films but this film and particularly this scene is darker because of the shadow of his alcoholism.
While Sutter is the life of the party, he is also always drinking/drunk. When Sutter wakes up, he has no idea how he got there or where his car might be and decides to go on Aimee’s paper route with her. While delivering papers the two strike up a conversation and you can tell they are interested in each other. Again, the film doesn’t go the stereotypical he is the popular guy and she is the nerdy girl until the amazing makeover. In this film, he is known but not “the popular one” and she is quiet but not the social pariah of the school and it never is a big deal the two are together. Throughout the beginning of the film, Sutter is talking and hanging out with Aimee while still trying to get back with Cassidy, but halfway through the film Sutter finally sees Aimee for what she is and falls for her.
It is at this point in the film that the two have a very, raw and realistic first time sex scene that many people probably could relate to. It was beautifully done and changes the movie from a sweet movie into something a little deeper. By this time the audience has fallen for Aimee thanks to the great performance of Woodley and you want to protect and shield her from pain. While you also like Sutter, his drinking and lackadaisical attitude makes him the last thing that Aimee, who is going somewhere in life, needs. Yet after the make love the first time you can see that she is deeply in love with him and he is corrupting her in small doses. Sutter would be the worst nightmare for parents of a girl because he is charming and nice and at the same time the worst possible boyfriend for her. While the two main actors are great, the supporting cast in the film is perfectly cast and written. In the Q&A after the film, the director talked about how Billy Wilder had characters that might have had one line but were fully fleshed out in the world. The Spectacular Now does the same things. Bob Odenkirk, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Andre Royo and Kyle Chandler all show up for a scene or two and knock it out of the park. Royo, who played the tragic and lovable Bubbles on The Wire, speaks volumes in the film by saying very little. His last scene with Teller talking about growing up will leave you wondering about his life with what he doesn’t say and was the perfect way to finish his role.
While the movie sounds like a movie of the week with alcoholism, it never diverges into cliché. Sutter is never lectured about his drinking, no one is killed or suspended for their actions and the movie is never preachy about the drinking. In the Q&A Ponsoldt said he didn’t want to make a message movie and he doesn’t. The Spectacular Now is about a young adult with a drinking problem but is not like Days of Wine and Roses or The Lost Weekend where the message is all that there is, this film is about character and story and not about hammering a message home. While it might frustrate some, but in the end there have been no epiphany or speeches about changing, the wonderful and beautiful end of the film hints that change might be coming but Sutter is a work in progress and again that made the film much more realistic.
The Spectacular Now is heartfelt, beautiful and moving. The film is beautifully shot, well written and the main actors as well as the director have a huge career in front of them. This is my favorite film of the year so far and I can’t wait for it to be released later this year so everyone can see it. When it is released, don’t disregard it as a “teen movie” or as “alcoholic movie” it is these things but it is also so much more. I loved this film and can’t wait to see it again.