‘The Spectacular Now’ is an intriguing, coming-of-age story with a ‘realistic’ feel. The film details the unfolding relationship of two high school seniors, each struggling with private emotional wounds, who, unexpectedly, happen upon each other.
Miles Teller plays Sutter Keely, a frequent partier living very much in the ‘now,’ who seems to skirt by school on personality more than on academics. Unfortunately, Sutter has a drinking problem, continuously sipping on alcohol, all day, every day, from hidden flasks and gas station soda cups. Numbed to much of the ups and downs of the real world, Sutter takes on the persona of a ‘laid-back,’ class clown charmer, seemingly content in his hazy reality, until his ‘perfect’ blonde girlfriend drops him for the senior class president.
Sutter reacts by going on a major bender, waking up the next morning in the front yard of ‘good girl’ and ‘A’-student classmate, Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). Although Aimee knows Sutter by reputation, he knows nothing of her. But, together, they begin to forge a relationship and a nascent, meaningful romance.
The most captivating element of ‘The Spectacular Now’ is its seeming creation of tender teen reality. Teller (who vaguely resembles an unusual mix of John Cusack and Elvis Presley) and Woodley are skilled in their performances, making the film feel like a slice of modern teendom, that, warts and all, includes broken/blended families, alcoholism, and inelegant intimacies. Refreshingly, the characters of Sutter and Aimee are not the good-guy/smart-girl teen stereotypes depicted in so many other films. The leads appear much as they might as real-life Georgia high school seniors -- with skin imperfections, sweat, scars, bad hair days and all. Even the often hard-to-write teen-speak between the two leads seems without over-glossed, young-adult artifice.
Furthermore, the initial awkwardness between the two, Aimee’s attempt to process her ‘head-over-heels’ feelings for her first boyfriend, and Sutter’s emergent heartfelt connection with Aimee are all played out in a believable way that remains engaging scene-to-scene. But, given the realistic bent of the film, all is not ideal for the couple, and the film takes on a sad tone over time. Both characters are wounded (having been left by significant others) and both have protected themselves emotionally. And, although never preachy, the depiction of Sutter’s alcoholism can make his character hard to root for wholeheartedly.
In all, ‘The Spectacular Now’ is a somewhat subdued, millennial version of 1989’s ‘Say Anything’ that’s worth a viewing. ‘The Spectacular Now’ is rated 4 - of 5 stars (‘recommended’). It is rated ‘R’ for alcohol use, language and some sexuality - all involving teens.
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