Focusing on that awkward, scary time between adolescence and adulthood, The Spectacular Now paints a rich picture of high school angst and the impact that individuals can have, both good and bad, on shaping a young person’s path. My review after the jump.
Sutter (Miles Teller) lives for the moment. The likeable, life of the party doesn’t have much in the way of ambition, beyond having fun and making people smile. Sutter may come across as a bonehead, but in fact, he’s quite the opposite. The kind-hearted young man uses alcohol and humour to mask thoughts of both the future and the past. He is unfairly harsh on his mother (Jennider Jason Leigh) and resents her for [what he perceives to be] her part in his father (Kyle Chandler) leaving many years before. After a large night out drinking, Sutter is woken by Aimee (Shailene Woodley), whose lawn he has unceremoniously spent the night sleeping on. Aimee is a shy girl, who very much keeps to herself. Like Sutter, she doesn’t think too much about the future, as she is unable to see beyond a life supporting her seemingly wayward mother. Their unlikely meeting is the beginning of an interesting relationship, one which helps shape both of their futures.
There is an incredible naturalness to the relationship which develops between Aimee and Sutter. On the surface they may seem polar opposites, but in fact they share the burden and the pain which comes from a complicated home (both have only their mothers present, but due to different reasons) and the inability to realise their own potential. It takes the two of them meeting each other for them to be able to look beyond the end of their respective driveways. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodly both deliver incredibly powerful performances here. Woodley gives a maturity to her character, while still allowing her adolescent awkwardness to shine through; while Teller manages to deftly portray a character who is outwardly cheerful and charismatic, but who hides a lot of pain inside. I also enjoyed Kyle Chandler in a role which didn’t involve him wearing a navy suit.
Based on the novel by Tim Tharp, the rich and nuanced screenplay from Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer) is commendable for its natural flowing dialogue and excellent pacing. Director James Ponsoldt has quickly become a director whom I am excited to see work from. After the incredible portrayal of middle class alcoholism in Smashed, he has again delivered another intimate and powerful film with The Spectacular Now. Ponsoldt isn’t afraid of getting close to his characters and this film, like Smashed, feels very organic, with the characters evolving in a very natural way. Where other films may have resorted to stereotypes, particularly with the portrayal of high school students (the bully, the geek etc), The Spectacular Now gives us believable, grounded characters with flaws, without villainising them or employing too many clichés. The conversations between the characters are conversations that we’ve had, or at least I have. I distinctly remember the conversations which I was involved in during my last year of high school about what we wanted and/or expected in our futures. They were filled with naïvety, hope and fear. This film captures all of these emotions almost pitch-perfectly.
By Sam McCosh
Director: James Ponsoldt
Writer(s): Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (screenplay), Tim Tharp (novel)
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Kyle Chandler, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Runtime: 95 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: December 5, 2013