The Spectacular Now isn’t like most movies of its teenage genre. The film is based on Tim Tharp’s book by the same name and provides a real and sometimes brutal depiction of those formable high school years.
Sutter (played by Miles Teller) is a high school senior who seems to be very much the “carpe diem” type. With no real plans for life after high school, Sutter focuses his attention on alcohol and his girlfriend Cassidy. That is until Cassidy dumps him.
After a drunken night out, Sutter wakes up in someone’s yard where he is found by Aimee (played by Shailene Woodley). Aimee is also a senior, but she seems to have her act together. She’s not into partying, she’s good at school, and she doesn’t seem to have a problem picking up her own mom’s slack when it comes to her paper route.
Aimee and Sutter’s friendship grows and seems to affect them both – Sutter in a good way and Aimee in a not so good way. As a viewer, you can’t help but want to protect Aimee from Sutter. As you see her start to pick up Sutter’s affection for booze along with another major incident of the film (no spoilers here), you just want her to get as far away from him as possible. However, it’s very clear that Sutter is dealing with “daddy issues” of abandonment, so you can’t hate him as much as you sometimes wish you could. You understand why he’s doing what he’s doing, but then again you also note that he’s doing nothing to help himself. Aimee doesn’t seem to have the typical girl mentality of “I can change him,” instead she embraces him for who he is and encourages him in the right direction. Over the course of the film, you can see this relationship has a profound effect on Sutter, and ultimately how the film ends.
Both Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley do a fantastic job here, especially Woodley who went from being an ABC Family darling with The Secret Life of the American Teenager” to a her Golden Globe Award nomination for best supporting actress in the 2001 film The Descendants. If you don’t know her already from one of those, get ready to see her everywhere this spring in the film adaptation of Veronica Roth’s Divergent. She has a talent beyond her years, and she brings an innocence and kindness to Aimee that I find it difficult to imagine another actress of her age doing.
What I found truly interesting about this story though, is that it isn’t your typical high school love story. We’re used to focusing on a girl that doesn’t have her act together or somehow needs rescuing by the male character. It’s been a successful formula for Hollywood, so they’ve stuck with it film after film. However, this is where The Spectacular Now truly shines. Not only does it have a non-textbook story to tell – it does so in a beautiful way.
Earlier this year, I sat down with director James Ponsoldt to chat about the film, he spoke about Hollywood’s desire to marginalize the American adolescence saying: “They’ve marginalized respecting fundamentally what it is to be that age I think. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily specific to teenagers. I think they marginalize the experience of what it is to be 6 or 30 or 50 or 70 or whatever. They’re really not that interested. For the most part it’s all profit driven. It’s multinational corporations that need to make lots of money and they need to sell product which usually works out to action figures. They need things that can be ready-made and have a ready-made audience, because they’re based on a pre-existing property or things that can be sequeled.”
I thought that Ponsoldt explained the teenage movie industry perfectly, and the fact that The Spectacular Now didn’t fall inside that description made me love it all the more. The Athens, Georgia filmed movie is definitely worth checking out if you want a beautiful film with an unique story. It’s one of the more hidden gems from last year’s cinematic offerings.
Review By: Emma Loggins