In the film The Spectacular Now, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is on his way through life like a train missing its brakes. His take on the philosophy of "living in the now" is to truly make no plans or care about nothing that doesn't affect how he feels, how he gets by, and how he does what he wants right here, right now, each day of his life.
He finds a level of satisfaction in this because, as he says in the movie at one point, what makes being an adult so great? There's certainly something to this. Children should not rush through childhood so that they can simply gain the "freedom" that comes with adulthood. But there is a flaw in his understanding of living in the present. To remove consequences from actions is simply impossible. Nothing one can say or do can happen in a vacuum. That's just not the way the world works. Our actions cause ripples that affect the pond of not only our lives, but the lives of those around us, in small and sometimes very large and consequential manifestations that we may or may not even know.
Most notably in the film, Sutter's father's actions affected him—and not so much for the better. Tommy Keely, (Kyle Chandler, whose dishonorable and washed up character he plays so well here is extra difficult to view for those who watched him through five excellent seasons as the loving, focused, and steadfast coach and father Eric Taylor on the series Friday Night Lights), is a mess of a man, one who you knew was popular and well liked in his youth, gliding through school and making every day fun and every moment count (in his eyes) by focusing solely on himself.
But we find him, about halfway through the film, when Sutter goes on a road trip to see him, the man who walked out on his family when Sutter was a boy, and here is, living the same way, one day to the next, and not at all caring about the life, the family (Sutter, his sister, Holly, (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and mother, Sara, (Jennifer Jason Leigh)) he left behind, spending his days at the local bar, and most likely floating in and out of consciousness.
And here's where the acting chops of Miles Teller really come into play. Up until this point, Sutter had been pretty happy go lucky. He was 18, about to go off from high school (which he was failing out of) to who knows where (most likely working at the men's clothing store at which he was currently employed, but soon to leave, due to his drinking), and somehow never really brought too down by anything, despite being dumped by his girlfriend at the beginning of the movie, Cassidy (Brie Larson), and despite all the hard circumstances around him. He is just one of those people who doesn't think about the future, and he simply doesn't get bothered by practically anything.
But here's the thing about that, about "those people"... it's all a ruse. He hurts, just like anyone and everyone else, and perhaps even more so, because all of those brushed aside feelings, locked away with armor of emotional distance or alcohol (which he imbibes generously from a flask and/or a large, plastic take-out pop cup throughout the whole of his days and nights) or whatever means possible until finally moments like seeing that his father never really cared for him all those missing years, (as witnessed by the fact that after Sutter drove all the way to see him, Keely Sr. doesn't even make an effort to spend more time with him, but just heads back to the bar after they briefly meet and tells Sutter to wait for him at his apartment), really break a person down.
It is crushing to witness on screen. The real, felt emotion presented is flawlessly depicted. And that is merely the presentation of what our protagonist is going through. Add to that the absolutely pitch perfect performance by the heart-breakingly sincere Shailene Woodley, who plays Aimee Finecky, the girl who too has a far from perfect life, but has such depth of character within her that she has come through it all the better, with prospects of college and a decent life ahead of her, overcoming the death of her own father, and the absenteeism of her mother to act like and be her mother, Aimee has truly pulled herself up from her bootstraps and soldiered through life. And Woodley brings this delicacy, this innocence, this inner fragile, beautiful strength to the screen in the character of Aimee that is a rare magic, which movies can sometimes strike. Between her Golden Globe-nominated breakout performance in 2011's The Descendants and this portrayal here, there is no doubt that she has a potential for the brightest of Hollywood futures, should she keep her head on straight and her eyes pointed forward.
Aimee is just the kind of loving being that Sutter needed in his life. And at first, as a viewer, you almost don't want her to go down his rabbit hole of despair. It's not that he's a bad kid, but there is a heavy potential there that things could turn darkly awry, that he could turn into his father. He sees that when he goes to visit him, and it almost feels as though it were inevitable.
But that's the astounding beauty of the film (and of life)—each one of us is an individual and we are alone in our own skin. We can make our own choices. We can be our own persons, and although we are at once the product of our surroundings, our parents, our culture, our friends, our livelihoods, we also are our own individual beings capable of change and a life that we do choose to live, once we are given the knowledge and tools that come with age and cognizant decision-making.
And that is where this movie shines victorious—in presenting the very deeply flawed side of humanity only to be reconciled with the fact that there is light at the end of the tunnel: the hope that there can be a brighter tomorrow, (not if we're living in and for it, because always waiting for the next big thing to come along that will make us "happy" is also the surefire path to unhappiness), but if we do take each day as it comes and blend that with a sense of everything being in a continuum. We must live in the now. But we must also acknowledge the future, and we must learn from the past.
At the end of the day, The Spectacular Now, based on a book of the same name by author Tim Tharp, is a simple film, presenting basic human experience. But it does so in such a truthful manner, that it's really nothing short of, well, spectacular. Director James Ponsoldt has captured something of the fragility of life and the uneasiness of youth that is quite magnificent to behold. Sincerity can be rare to find on screen, in the age where so many movies are churned out for the sole purpose of bolstering studios' coffers. It's lovely to come across something so boldly sincere, without ever trying too hard to be so. It's definitely a film not to be missed.