In a time where movies care more about destroying cities with big budget special effects, it takes a movie like The Spectacular Now to make me remember what I love about film. Good story telling, with characters so real that they bleed through the screen with so much heart that it hurts.
The Spectacular Now is based on the novel written by author Tim Tharp. I meant to read it before viewing the film, but I never got around to it. I’m actually glad I never did, because I’m too happy with the vision that director James Ponsoldt and writers Michael H. Weber & Scott Neustadter (writers of (500) Days Of Summer) put on to the screen. It’s one of the most emotional movies you will view all year, and also one of the very best. You’ll be hard pressed to find a film that tackles coming of age topics as brave and realistic as The Spectacular Now does.
Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is living life the way he wants. He’s the life of the party, has a lovely girlfriend named Cassidy (Brie Larson), and is completely involved in the now. This allows him to live his life to the very fullest, with the future looming far away from his mind. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. He’s flawed just like you and me. He has a serious drinking problem. Everywhere he goes, so does his flask, or his 7-11-type soda cup that he refills with booze. He even drinks while on the job at a suit shop helmed by his very kind and caring boss, Dan (Breaking’s Bad very own Saul Goodman: Bob Odenkirk). Soon it spirals out of control, losing him Cassidy, and leaving him to black out drunk on lawns.
This is where he meets Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) the girl normally opposite of Sutter’s type, a quiet reserved girl who gets good grades, reads mangas, and works her mom’s paper route. She finds Sutter passed out on a lawn and they soon connect. Aimee and Sutter create a natural bond that is instantly clear to them, even if its not for others. Aimee usually isn’t the type of girl that Sutter goes for, as Sutter’s friend Ricky (Masam Holden) points out. Sutter does take a liking for her, but see’s it as a temporary thing, almost as if he’s doing a favor for her. He can’t possibly plan for the future, its just not how he operates.
This is Sutter’s problem. Although he is a good guy with good intentions, he is often misguided. He looks out for others, but he often goes about it the wrong way, most often than naught due to his drinking problem and his carefree attitude. He cares about Aimee, but he has a funny way of showing it. Such as asking her out to prom while blackout drunk, then avoiding her for days on end. His drinking issues aren’t just because he’s a hard partying teenager. He has familial issues caused by the divorce of his parents straining his relationship with his mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and non-existent dad (Kyle Chandler).
Aimee and Sutter find ways to bring out the best of each other, to be the person they need to be, but couldn’t have achieved without one another. They grow closer over time, even though Sutter fails to evolve as much as he should. He can’t quit the drink overnight, and as much as he’d like to change, he is who he is. Their relationship isn’t the stuff that most romantic tales are built on, but that’s the way it is.
This is the beauty of The Spectacular Now. It’s as realistic as they come. These characters are human and make mistakes, and don’t try to escape from the truth. Sutter knows who he is, and accepts that. There are many heartbreaking scenes with Sutter where he is forced to look at his impact around others, and face his faults.
James Ponsoldt captures a warm feeling through a directing style that most resembles the fantastic work of Richard Linklater in his “Before” triology. He lets these characters come into our heart through natural situations and conversations, as if we are sitting there right next to them. We share their feelings, their pain, and their heartbreak. It’s like we’re teenagers again experiencing everything again for the first time. Now that’s story telling.
I can’t praise the performances of the two young leads enough. Miles Teller is astonishingly good in this, leaving you to love him even for all his faults. He brings the charm, but also hones in on all the tough scenes that need a diverse range of emotion. Teller’s performance is balanced by Shailene Woodley who delivers a performance equally deserving of praise. There’s also strong performances from Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Bob Odenkirk, almost steals the show with a heartbreaking scene with Teller towards the end of the film that hit home almost too hard. In this scene, we see that this movie isn’t going to magically allow Sutter to clean up his act overnight. Life is a struggle, and we’re in it for the long haul. It’s a message that we all try to escape, but The Spectacular Now makes us stare at it right in the face. Why run?
Sutter is a flawed human being, and the film embraces this. It’s real, and it’s human, and that’s a damn refreshing change from what is the Hollywood norm. It’s a remarkable thing that shines through the film, creating one of the most breathtaking viewings that I’ve had so far this year. Go see The Spectacular Now, right now. Bring your game face, because it’s going to take a lot for this film not to hit your emotional core. Props to Ponsoldt, Weber, and Neustadter they don’t hold back on us in any way, and deliver a film that is remarkably real to the bone. I praise them for it because they treat us the same way they treat the characters, like real people.