“The Spectacular Now” is not your typical boy-meets-girl story. Director James Ponsoldt makes that abundantly clear when the girl meets the boy passed out on a stranger’s lawn at the crack of dawn after a night of heavy drinking. The sad part is the girl is so nice and good-hearted she cannot realize this is a huge red flag and decides to hang out with the boy anyway. The result is a very unconventional romantic story where a happy ending is not a guarantee.
Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a high school kid who believes in living in the moment. Quick-witted and charming, he sees himself as the life of the party. It all comes crashing down after his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) dumps him and sends him on one of many drinking binge. Waking up the next morning he is staring at the beautiful face of Aimee Finecky (the wonderful Shailene Woodley) who is nice enough to offer him a ride while she delivers the morning paper in the neighborhood.
Aimee is by definition a “nice girl” who likes to read books about fantasy, works hard, and is good at math. It comes as a surprise to everyone who knows Sutter that he would decide to hang out with her and when asked about it he says by being with her he is doing her a favor. Sutter would much prefer get back with Cassidy so in his mind Aimee is just a temporary distraction who may end up learning a few things from the experience so it’s a win-win for everyone. In fairness he does teach her a few things, mainly how to swear and take a drink since he always has a flask of booze at the ready.
Of course much to his surprise Sutter finds himself slowly falling for her and he ends up learning a few things from her as well. They each promise to stand up to their mothers’ resulting in Aimee making plans for college. This is where things begin to clash since Sutter never has any plans for next week, much less for what he will do after high school. His philosophy is to always live in the moment, but the problem with that is when tomorrow comes knocking you are woefully unprepared.
The movie is filled with many great supporting actors who are there to help Sutter get his act together. Andre Royo from The Wire is his geometry teacher who wants him to succeed, but only sees Ds on his test results. Bob Odenkirk from Breaking Bad is his boss at a clothing store who thinks Sutter is great with customers, but wishes he wouldn’t show up to work loaded from the night before. Then from Friday Night Lights there is Kyle Chandler as Sutter’s estranged father who indicates alcoholism might be a genetic trait.
For lets not kid ourselves, even though he is only finishing high school Sutter can be clearly defined as an alcoholic. Like many boys his age he has a lot of growing up to do but if he continues on this path he may grow up in the wrong direction. Teller has a great scene when he realizes this and tells his caring mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) he sees himself ending up just like his dad.
With very strong performances from its two engaging leads “The Spectacular Now” works as both a surprising romantic story and a cautionary tale about always living in the now.