Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Spectacular Now

There’s a common tale people like to tell. It’s a stereotype, but one that fits this review appropriately. The tale goes like this: the jocks peak in high school. If they’re not jocks, then they’re the most popular guys in the school. The guys who party hard, get laid often and enjoy proclaiming that these are the best years of their lives. But the tale continues. When you jump ahead five to 10 years, the tale dictates that those once popular guys never left their hometown. They stayed, clinging to the glory days.

Now, whether you believe in that tale or not, it perfectly describes who Sutter Keely is going to be. When Sutter is all grown, tending bar with his old man, wondering where all his buddies went. Wondering what happened to that one girl he used to love. This is utter speculation on my part, as The Spectacular Now only captures Sutter (Miles Teller) for a few months of his life as a high school senior, but that is certainly where he’s headed. A pathetic drunk, clinging to the best of times, wondering What If.


But hell, truth be told, when we meet Sutter, he’s not that much different than how I envision him being in that grand tale of mine. Sutter is the life of it all, the class clown, the first one in the pool at the otherwise chill house party, the loudest guy in the room; Sutter is that guy, and he absolutely loves being that guy.

But then, by chance, he meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley). Aimee Finecky, as it were, because leave it to Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the gifted authors of (500) Days of Summer) to pen such a perfect name for the girl next door. Anyway, Aimee is different. She doesn’t party, she doesn’t drink, she doesn’t sleep around or thrive on attention. She minds her own business, doesn’t wear make up, does well in school, breezes on by.
Like conflicting sides of a magnet, Sutter and Aimee are inexplicably drawn to one another in a way director James Ponsoldt and his writers bring to life organically. Their romance is slow, tender, and actually quite remarkable. If nothing else, this is what I want to make absolutely clear about The Spectacular Now: it portrays teenage romance realistically, in all its patience, awkwardness, false confidence, and confusion. It’s one of the most honest teen romances I’ve seen, and that is certainly reason enough to see it.

But there are more. Plenty more. Miles Teller is a young actor I first noticed in 2010’s Rabbit Hole. In that film, he played an innocent kid shattered by accidentally running over a little boy. And although his innocence has matured in The Spectacular Now, Teller still plays the role of a teenager barely keeping it together to utter perfection. You’re not going to like a lot of what Sutter does, and that’s okay. There’s always hope on the other side.
But, for those who saw Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, it may not come as a surprise that the best thing about The Spectacular Now is a little powerhouse named Shailene Woodley. I loved her fierce, stubborn work in Payne’s film, but her Aimee is a stunning, unique creature. I can’t recall another young actor playing a young person in quite the way Woodley does here. There simply aren’t enough adjectives to articulate everything she gets right. Although Aimee frustrated me to no end, I was compelled to follow her wherever Woodley and Ponsoldt saw fit.

It wasn’t my intention to offend anyone with that tall tale I told in the beginning of this review. But the time I shared with The Spectacular Now was time spent on that notion of a jock stuck in his glory days. I saw the film a week ago, and I haven’t been able to shake that feeling. That feeling of a lost Sutter, wondering What If. I can only hope that I’m wrong. A- 

22 comments:

  1. You certainly didn't offend me with that tale of yours - I think good criticism can (and should) speak to how art resonates with us in different ways, and the way this film has obviously connected with you, creating real enough characters for you to ponder their (fictional) futures - it's both interesting and a reflection of the strength of this film. Nice work!

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    1. Thanks man. I really couldn't get that thought out of my mind. And I agree that it speaks highly to the film that I've created my own fictional futures for the fictional characters.

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  2. Don't worry about who you offend Alex! Its all part of being a critic!

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    1. Thanks! But I don't think critics are meant to offend. If they are, then I guess I've been going about this thing all wrong. Ha.

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  3. I think that tale you told probably happens all the time. Great review! Sometimes I wonder if I'm getting too old to watch teen romances, but this one actually seems like something I'd enjoy.

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    1. Yeah, it definitely happens all the time, but I can just imagine THAT GUY reading this post and flipping shit. Ha, oh well.

      I'm right there with you about out growing these kinds of films. But this one works. Honestly.

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  4. This was a film I've been looking forward to for a long time - the trailer at least fit right into my Perks of Being a Wallflower / Breakfast Club fix for young adult films. Great review, and I can't wait to see this! I'm sure I'll share the same sentiments. :)

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    1. I think you will too! Or at least, I hope you will. It's a great little film that fits well in the vein of the ones you mentioned. Look forward to your review!

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  5. This is a film I'm really eager to see as I love Shailene Woodley's performance in The Descendants and I'm a fan of Miles Teller as I loved his work in Rabbit Hole and thought he was the only thing in that awful remake of Footloose that kept it from being a disaster.

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    1. You're gonna like this one. Really look forward to your review. Woodley and Teller are excellent actors.

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  6. Yes!!! THAT GUY! I'm so happy to hear others were seeing the same things I was seeing. Like, didn't you want to scream at Aimee right at the end: "No! Turn around! Run the other way!"

    It was such a good movie and so organic, as you said, and yet there was this distinct depression, I thought, that enveloped their relationship in the third act.

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    1. Hell yeah man. Such an organic and distinct film. I fear for Aimee, but I trust she'll make the right decision. Either way, that was a perfect depiction of THAT GIRL. You know?

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  7. I actually wasn't all that thrilled by the trailer for this film and probably would have just wound up ignoring it if not for this review. The way you describe it makes it sound really genuine and "sweet" (in that teenage sort of way). You have made me somewhat interested in this, I just hope it's better than Kings of Summer.

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    1. It's really quite good. I was underwhelmed by the trailer as well, but this one really works. Sweet but raw when needed. It gets it right.

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  8. Great review man! I'm also a fan of Woodley's work in The Descendants and Teller's in Rabbit Hole, so I can't wait to see this. Besides, indie romances are usually much better than any rom-com playing in 3,000+ theaters.

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    1. Thanks! Oh, this one is far better than any teen indie romance I've seen in a while. It gets it all right. Woodley is a star.

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  9. Miles, much like life after High School for most, starts out thinking he knows all the in and outs only to discover he didn't know a thing. He has only to begin. I love that the film goes places that other romance movies do not tackle, it seems more and more romantic movies (especially indie ones) are starting to cover the fact that 99% of someone's dating life is not spent falling for 'the one', but it's finding out what does not and what will not work for you in a relationship. Noone likes to admit it, but if more people admitted it there would a whole lot less jaded people about the whole thing. Anyway my guess is that the Accident scene is the thing keeping this at an A-, poorly handled and presented, the rest however is 'spectacular.'

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    1. Love this comment. Completely agree with you. I actually liked the accident scene, I thought Woodley's mortified and embarrassed reaction as she got out of the car was perfect. A- is still a damn fine grade ;)

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    2. Well, what I meant was the scene follows the 'Final Destination' concept that vehicles do not sound their horns or have engine sounds until after impact. Also all that happened was she hurt her arm, after being struck by a speeding car? Again doesn't destroy the movie for me, just took me out of the experience for that particular moment.

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    3. Oh I'm with you there. People getting hit by cars in movies is rarely played accurately. And yeah... an arm injury, that's it? He could've just as easily pushed her to the ground and she would've had the same injury. I didn't necessarily like the car scene, but I did think the actors played it well.

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  10. I love this film. It make me remember my high school time. First I thought it was a cliche rom-com but is more than that.

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    1. So good, right? I should give it another watch.

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