THE SPECTACULAR NOW
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh
As far as coming-of-age stories go, John Hughes would be proud of the film by James Ponsoldt. Based on the book of the same name, by Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now is the type of story anyone can relate to. Without holding back, Ponsoldt delivers a solid and true look at adolescence and the difficult decision of living in the now, but not forgetting about the tomorrow.
Sutter Keely, played to perfection by a John Cusack-esque Miles Teller, is a typical, overly confident high school senior. The future will work itself out when it gets here. That philosophy, as well as a broken home life, has pushed Sutter to become an alcoholic of epic proportions (the kid walks around with a Big Gulp cup full of soda and whiskey) and the ideal high school party-goer. He's friends with everyone and no one at the same time. It's not until a point of self-redemption that he realizes that he may be more of a joke to those who cheer him on on Friday nights than a hero. With his world crumbling down after his girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), dumps him, Sutter keeps his outward appearance unshaken. That is until a fateful morning when he wakes up from a drunken stupor in a front yard by the normal, but beautiful, Aimee (the perfect Shailene Woodley), a high school classmate he's never given attention to.
At this point the film has two ways it could go. It cold trudge in She's All That territory of pop culture cheekiness. Or, it could deliver a portrait of the struggle of teenage identity. Thankfully, Ponsoldt chooses the latter. Sutter and Aimee become the couple no one ever saw coming. Aimee is a bookworm, straight A student with hand-drawn pictures of her sci-fi heroes taped to her bedroom wall. Sutter knows his way around a keg better than your average college student. They're the definition of opposites attracting. The common denominator is that, in fact, they are more alike than even they realize.
Aimee, too, comes from an uneven home life, but she's too afraid of standing up for herself, or her future. Sutter is too afraid to confront his past by asking his mom about his dad, who walked out on his family when he was a kid. Through the constant ups of their teenage relationship, the two give each other a piece that was missing. When Sutter finally visits his father, played with a brilliant quietness by Kyle Chandler, he finally realizes living euphorically in the now isn't probably the best set-up.
Ponsoldt lets the actors enjoy each and every moment, which makes it even better for the audience. Each scene seems so raw and real. Just like a real youthful relationship, sometimes it's not about the words being spoken, but about the fact that you're both there, speaking words. When the two decide to take their relationship to the bedroom, Ponsoldt allows us to see only what's necessary, which makes it even more affecting. Awkwardness is best when it's real.
With a script by the guys who wrote (500) Days of Summer, the story ventures a little differently from a few details in the book, but what works is the heart behind the story. Much like last year's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, there's an honesty that has to be portrayed in order for this movie to work and, with the help of the awards-worthy Teller and Woodley, The Spectacular Now reaches those heights.
The film premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, winning special jury prizes for the two leads. It is currently in limited release.
Runtime: 95 minutes