“The Spectacular Now,” based on the novel of the same name, by Tim Tharp is a genuine and heartfelt coming of age story.
The fact that its protagonist is a senior in high school makes it slightly bizarre, considering most coming-of-age stories center around someone who is just hitting puberty.
But Sutter, played by Miles Teller (“Footloose”), is a bit behind. Sutter is a smooth talking party boy, who at eighteen-years-old, only lives in the now. His whole life revolves around having a good time, with little thought to consequences. While filling out a college essay about challenges in his life, the best he can come up with is his girlfriend Cassidy, played by Brie Larson (“21 Jump Street”), dumping him.
Things start to change when Sutter wakes up on an unfamiliar lawn and meets Aimee, played by Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”). She’s someone who has her whole life figured out and has already gotten into college. While it seems like she’s going to change him for the better, in fact the opposite happens. Slowly you see her start to disappear into Sutter’s world.
“The Spectacular Now” is unlike any other teen movie that has come out in recent years. It almost harkens back to the John Hughes era when teen movies dealt with real problems, real emotions and less on slapstick and sexual escapades. It does stick to some conventions of the teen movies, there’s the ugly, pretty girl who is an outcast for no real reason other than the story demands it. There’s the popular pretty girl, the advice-giving best friend and the class clown. But beyond those archetypes of the genre, “The Spectacular Now” defies most of what has come to be standards for the teen movie.
The most interesting thing about the film is the cast, which is mostly unknowns. They look like real teenagers and real people. Everyone’s hair is not always perfect. It defies the Hollywood standard of casting gorgeous 30- year-olds, who look thirty, instead casting actors that look natural and genuine in their teen roles.
“The Spectacular Now” begins like it’s going to be another teen comedy about a hard-partying boy getting his life together and going off to college. But slowly, as the movie progresses, you notice that is not the case at all. Everyone around Sutter gets wise to his smooth-talking ways and becomes disillusioned. He stops being the class clown and starts becoming a joke himself. It was very well done. We see the people around him realize that his smiles are hiding deeper insecurities until Sutter himself notices he’s not living the life he thought. He is actually just an 18-year-old who owns a flask and can’t make it through a shift at his easy job without taking a drink.
This is a very quiet, slow moving film. The main focus of the movie is trying to capture real life and human emotions. There were times where it moved a bit too slow and left you wondering if there was any real plot to the movie at all, but then it would take a turn and pick up pace. It’s well acted, with Teller giving an excellent and very genuine performance as Sutter, a character that at times can be unlikable.
It’s also well shot for what the director, James Ponsoldt (“Smashed”) was going for. It’s very realistic; no big cinematic shots or fancy camera work. He kept it simple, which worked for this kind of film. There was nothing flashy or overstated, just a focus on the story and the characters.
“The Spectacular Now” is a very touching film with some great performances by a mostly-unknown cast. It has some pacing issues, but overall was a nice teen dramedy. This isn’t a movie for everybody, but this mostly unknown film deserves more mention than it seems to be getting. It’s a funny, heartfelt movie that is relatable, utterly believable and never crosses the line into melodramatic.