Two rising young stars headline The Spectacular Now, a poignant film based on the novel of the same name by Tim Tharp. Miles Teller, who’s drawing raves for his turn in this year’s Sundance hit, Whiplash, turns in an effective performance as Sutter Keely, a charming high school senior who glides through live with as little effort as possible. Previously seen primarily in low brow comedies, The Spectacular Now is Teller’s breakthrough, an announcement that he has so much more to offer than dick jokes and acting wasted. His on screen partner is Shailene Woodley, who blew away audiences as the troubled daughter in the 2011 Oscar nominated, The Descendants. Woodley proves that her acclaim for The Descendants was no fluke and that she should be giving heartbreaking performances for years to come.
Everyone loves Sutter, who’s nowhere as clueless or shallow as he likes to portray himself. “Live in the now,” is his motto, one that will come back to haunt him later in the film. Sutter’s home life is a wreck and he’s content to spend the rest of his years in his hometown of Athens, Georgia, drinking away his days and working at the dead end job he’s so good at.
When Sutter’s girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson, Short Term 12), breaks up with him, he gets drunk. The next morning, the sweet Aimee Finicky (Woodley), discovers Sutter passed out on a neighbor’s lawn, and an unexpected friendship forms. Sutter and Aimee begin studying together and she begins to fall in love with him. Sutter struggles with the feelings he still harbors for Cassidy and the deeper affection he develops for Aimee. It’s complicated, awkward and touching all at once, making for one of the best portrayals of young love I’ve seen in recent memory.
Woodley and Teller light up the screen together. They play the awkward “get-to-know” you scenes perfectly. The blossoming love is shown in as a natural progression, not the sort of “love at first sight” we’ve seen is thousands of teen films. This is just one way that The Spectacular Now raises the bar for teen dramas. The characters are grounded and familiar. They’re less interested in getting laid or bitching about their parents than they are trying to figure out just where they’ll fit once they graduate from high school.
The screenplay adaptation was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the screenwriters who penned the genre bending rom-com, (500) Days of Summer. Their script contains the same nuance of the character that (500) Days of Summer did so well. The director is James Ponsoldt, who previous film was the alcoholic drama, Smashed. Ponsoldt handles the alcoholism in The Spectacular Now with an assured hand. He shows a teenager in trouble who is only starting to realize that he has a drinking problem.
Ponsoldt chose to film The Spectacular Now in anamorphic widescreen 35 MM, which is unusual in today’s cinema for an intimate character dramas. In choosing to do so, the director was hoping to emulate classic films such as The Last Picture Show and Breaking Away, movies about small towns shown in an epic scope. Ponsoldt succeeds with The Spectacular Now, depicting small town America with all of its cracks and frayed edges.
Besides Teller, Woodley and Larson, who all shone, the film also features remarkable supporting turns from Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Margot at the Wedding), Andre Royo (The Wire) and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) whose screen time as Sutter’s father is short, but devastating.
The Blu-ray for The Spectacular Now is a beautiful HD transfer with 5.1DB audio. Bonus features include director commentary, deleted scenes, a four-part, in depth “making of” featurette, and a digital copy of the movie.