Following his incredible indie film “Smashed” last year, director James Ponsoldt continues with another story about alcoholism in youth. Based on the National Book Award Finalist by Tim Tharp, “The Spectacular Now” adapts one of the most genuine tales of troubled young adult life.
Sutter (Miles Teller) is always the life of the high school party thanks to a combination of being one of the nicest guys in town and a constant amount of alcohol in his system. After his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) breaks up with him for being constantly clueless and without goals, Sutter realizes that no one takes him seriously. After an extra drunk night, Aimee (Shailene Woodley) finds him passed out in a random yard without his car in sight while she’s doing her mother’s paper route. Feeling genuinely interested in helping Aimee learn her value, Sutter befriends the nerdy girl and introduces her to his world of alcohol-inspired fun. As Aimee develops feelings for Sutter, he continues fueling her interest by never pulling back, despite still being obsessed with Cassidy, and develops feelings of his own. Meanwhile, Aimee does inspire him to acknowledge his demons, like the history between his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and father (Kyle Chandler).
Sorry to disappoint, but “The Spectacular Now” is not a formulaic, Hollywood story; Aimee does not motivate Sutter to turn his life around and stop drinking and love doesn’t conquer all. The tale focuses more on teen alcoholism than romance. There has never been a film that has confronted this issue as realistically or innocently; it skips a heavy, in-your-face moral.
Though it is significantly milder than the novel, “The Spectacular Now” offers a couple of the best performances of the year. Aimee is not as fragile, Sutter is not as wild, and Cassidy is not as flirty, so maybe the portrayals are within reach for the actors, but Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley shine as two of the most likeable youth in film today. They are perfectly cast and give genuine, beautiful, tragic performances. Woodley received a lot of attention for “The Descendants,” but her performance as Aimee secures her spot as one of the best young actresses out there.
Fans of the novel should be satisfied throughout most of the film for its purity of adaptation (though it leaves out a few subplots, like details on his friend Ricky) until about the last ten minutes. Continuing after the book concludes at a real but heartbreaking ending, the film adds a slightly more uplifting turn towards hope. Either way, the attention is emphasized around growing up; one cannot simply accept one’s faults but must move forward to change or lose everything important. James Ponsoldt artfully makes films with purpose; his “Smashed” and “The Spectacular Now” are must-see films (though also read Tharp’s fantastic novel).
Rating for “The Spectacular Now:” A-
For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.
“The Spectacular Now” is only playing in four theaters in Columbus: Gateway, Grandview Theatre, AMC Lennox (has the most showtimes) and Easton. For showtimes, click here.