"You'll always be my favorite ex-boyfriend."
Director James Ponsoldt (Smashed) really set the bar high for this film giving it such a pretentious title, but in all honesty the movie accomplishes exactly that: It is spectacular. This has been a great year for coming of age movies and it is easily becoming one of my favorite genres. I thought I had had enough with MUD, The Way Way Back, and Kings of Summer, but The Spectacular Now managed to bring something new and unique to the equation. This is one of those High School films that feels authentic with three dimensional characters and a solid screenplay. The writers for 500 Days of Summer (another film I enjoyed), Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, did an incredible job adapting Tim Tharp's novel and their screenplay benefits from great performances from Woodley and Teller. Actually the entire cast is impressive in this film and it is really hard to think of another Hollywood film that has created such natural and authentic High School characters. At first glance you might think this is just another cliched romantic teen comedy where the popular kid from school falls for the nerdy and sweet girl, but this film does it in such a unique and mature way that it only uses this known premise to explore other important themes. The Spectacular Now is a balanced film that blends romantic and comic touches with some serious and dramatic moments. It reminds us all that it was not always easy to be a teen considering how specific moments touched and shaped us during our transition to adulthood.
Sutter (Miles Teller) is a charming and popular High School senior who everyone seems to like. There is no party if he isn't around. He is happy with his life and embraces the now. When his girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), dumps him he decides to do what he does best which is to party. The next morning Aimee (Shailene Woodley) finds hims passed out in her lawn and wakes him. Of course she recognizes him from school and introduces herself. She is nothing like him, she is sweet and shy, and has never had a boyfriend. Sutter has no idea where he has parked his car so he asks Aimee if he can ride with her while she does her mother's paper route. Despite their differences the two connect and begin to bond. Sutter is still very much in love with Cassidy, but at the same time he believes he can help Aimee become more confident. He may be a popular kid, but he realizes that he isn't going anywhere with his life and that is the main reason why Cassidy dumped him. Aimee on the other hand is either blinded by her love for him or actually does see some good in him. They're both at a turning point in their lives and despite their differences both of them think they can have a positive effect on the other.
Despite the familiar premise this film has a lot of depth and goes places others in the same genre never do. It also does it in such a way that it never feels heavy handed or manipulative. Yes there may be some rushed moments, but the story is so well crafted that it has an authentic and raw vibe to it. Woodley and Teller are so natural that you forget they are acting. The film just strikes all the right notes making it impossible to be emotionally detached to it. You really care for these characters and fear they will hurt one another. It is just such an honest depiction of teenage life where not only friends influence their lives, but the entire surroundings (parents, teachers, employers) shape them. The center of the film really is Sutter as his world (the spectacular now) begins to shake and alcohol doesn't seem like the easiest way out anymore. It may not be until halfway through the film that you realize that the main theme isn't the relationship between him and Aimee, but the way they each have to deal with the transitions and changes in their lives. Two scenes stood out for me, the first being Sutter's encounter with his father and the second near the end where he embraces his mother. The supporting performances in this film were also very rich. Kudos to Brie Larsen, Kyle Chandler (Sutter's father), and Jennifer Jason Leigh (his mother). They were all simply spectacular. This is a film that stays with you because it never feels false and remains fresh.