The Spectacular Now is an unsentimental teen drama/romance/coming of age story that backgrounds elements that are foregrounded in most teen dramas and comedies: the keg parties, the searching for sex, the cliques. It fumbles around, taking its time getting to the love story and the coming of age disillusion that the absent parent in the divorce is not quite the shining light the child expected him to be. Even worse, that the child knows he himself is on that same road.
I left the theater both hating and admiring The Spectacular Now's strip down portrait of young romance, disillusionment, coming of age, and realizing the right path.
Myles Teller (Project X, Footloose, Rabbit Hole) Sutter, who is never without a whiskey flask, or a hopeful complement that had me wondering whether it's sincere or a ruse just to get what he wants, smacks of charm stolen from John Cusack in Say Anything mode. Sutter is the popular kid, the non-jock life of the party who hides his insecurity with glib banter and alcohol fueled inspiration and courage. He is the one who lives in The Spectacular Now because he doesn't want to think about or work towards a spectacular future. So his girlfriend, seeing irresponsible alcoholic husband written on the wall of their life, dumps him.
Not so surprisingly Sutter wanders into the world of naïve good girl, never had a boyfriend Aimee (Shailene Woodley of The Descendants). It's a relationship that should never work. She is too smart, and yet naïve . He is just so not there yet. If it wasn't for a shocking mid movie twist, they would never get beyond the realization that he is not quite ready enough or deserving of her.
The director James Ponsoldt last feature was Smashed, an alcoholic recovery drama starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a fabulous performance. Winstead appears here as Sutter's high society but understanding older sister. The alcohol also flows freely in The Spectacular Now, but everyone but Son (until the end) and Dad (Kyle Chandler in a spot-on performance of a bad apple dad displaying the recoiling of his parental genes on his son's psyche) knows where the restraint line is.
I can't speak of whether Aimee and Sutter are like real teens, high school being over 40 years yon for me, but they do look and act like real three-dimensional movie teens. So that makes them real enough to be disappointing, delightfully, annoyingly aggravating in their life decisions, relationships and emotional choices-- and to register as interesting characters for the 95 minutes they are on screen.
The ending is the finale that any Hollywood feature can't help to write. A director should never let our romantic character expectations keep him from telling a great story.
The Spectacular Now gets a solid B from me.
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