About a month ago, I won free advance tickets to The Spectacular Now courtesy of /Film, but when we drove all the way to the city, it turned out the show was overbooked by about 50 people, and we didn’t end up getting seats. Now, last night, as The Spectacular Now has begun playing in regular suburban theaters in wide release, my girlfriend and I were literally the only two people in the entire theater… Kind of a comical twist of fate for the movie, but it shouldn’t be a surprising one. The film had all of the critical praise and great word of mouth to make it a knockout on the festival circuit, and something of a powerhouse indie film to target for a swanky advance-screening process for film fanatics. But then it kind of forgot that it needed to do some advertising (was there any advertising?) if it was going to be wide-released across the country. The girl at the concession stand last night, after being told of our advance screening plight, said she’d never even heard of the movie (key aspect of that: she works at a movie theater) and that we wouldn’t have a problem getting a seat this time around!
Anyway, The Spectacular Now is about an alcoholic teenager named Sutter (played by a great 26-year-old actor named Miles Teller), as he drifts through his senior year of high school without much of a care, but with a happy attitude. He gets dumped by his girlfriend (Brie Larson), only to happen upon a new girl named Aimee (Shailene Woodley) after a night of drinking. She falls in love with him for (a lot of) the wrong reasons, and also at an unfortunate time, as he is finally beginning to question what he’s doing with his life.
Sutter is a very interesting protagonist. He’s kind of the perfect representation of that popular kid in high school who has a great time while he’s there, but doesn’t end up planning much for the future. He’s thought of as a bit of a joke to most of the student body, but a joke they accept and like. Sutter is a completely likable guy, EVEN with his destructive tendencies. He’s seemingly not hurting anybody with his antics, except himself. He’s the person everyone who he went to school with wonders “what ever happened to that dude?” ten years later. He’s kind of got “Shawn Hunter Syndrome”, for those who are acquainted with Boy Meets World. In other words, he complains a lot about not having a dad, then gets drunk to mask his true emotions. And much like Shawn Hunter, he’s also the exact right kind of person that an unpopular smart girl like Aimee would foolishly fall in love with. The film is as much about the self-realization that Sutter is a screw up as it is about Aimee making her first mistake in choosing such a screw up.
Does this all sound very familiar to you? Does this just seem like another stupid high school coming-of-age/teen romance movie to you? Well, that’s where the beauty of The Spectacular Now comes into play. The film manages to tell the same kind of cliché story we’re all used to, but without all the clichés. The acting and the dialogue (especially from the two leads) is largely why. They felt so natural, but not sooo natural that it crept into that territory of feeling like there wasn’t even a script at all. And at the same time, nothing in the film felt forced out of the characters’ mouths. And the plot structure itself also managed to dodge the usual tropes this genre falls into. Sutter drives drunk the entire film, but never manages to get pulled over and/or arrested and/or get in a life changing car accident, turning the film into an after-school special about drinking and driving. We understand what he is doing is stupid. We don’t need it force-fed into our face holes. The movie basically treats everything that way, right up to the very fitting ambiguous ending (which had shades of The Last of Us’ also ambiguous ending). The director and the screenwriters (one of which wrote 500 Days of Summer) kept the intelligence level pretty high in a film that, in a lot of other people’s hands, would have fallen into mediocrity. The Spectacular Now doesn’t judge its characters openly, it instead allows us to form our own opinions about them. I don’t know, I think that’s kind of awesome when a movie does that. Am I wrong for feeling that way? [pops in DVD of She’s All That] OOOOOOH, YEAAAAAAAH, THE SPECTACULAR NOW IS DOING IT RIGHT.
The supporting cast featured a lot of cool people in really small roles. Bob Odenkirk plays Sutter’s boss, Kyle Chandler plays his dad, Jennifer Jason Leigh plays his mom, and Bubbles from The Wire plays his math teacher. They don’t do much, but they are appreciated nonetheless. On a technical level, I thought the pacing of the film was great. I never once felt bored, and it didn’t go on too long. I guess my only complaint is that several scenes looked blurry, and several other shots looked really washed out. I don’t know if this was a case of sloppy cinematography or just bad projection? I guess I’ll find out when it’s released on Blu-ray, because I’ll be watching this again.
So, if you want a film that’s a little bit funny, a little bit poignant, a little bit romantic, and a little bit dramatic; but you don’t want the run-of-the-mill nonsense that usually comes with a movie about high school students learning who they really are… Here you go.
8.5 out of 10