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The Spectacular Now (2013)

August 1, 2013

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written by: Scott Neustadter and Micahel H. Weber

produced by: Tom McNulty, Shawn Levy, Michelle Krum & Andrew Lauren

directed by: James Ponsaldt

rating: R (for alcohol use, language and some sexuality)

runtime: 100 min.

U. S. release date: August 2, 2013 (New York and Los Angeles) and August 9, 2013 (limited release)

 

Movies about teenagers have long labored under the shadow of filmmaker John Hughes and his seminal films of the 1980s.  His understanding and honest look at teenage life in classics like “Pretty in Pink”, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, and “The Breakfast Club” left such a huge mark on cinema that they are still watched, adored and imitated today some 25 years later.  The reason why is simple: he wrote his young characters as fully fleshed out human beings with complicated and diverse lives and presented their predicaments as serious situations, a refreshing contrast to the gross out sex and drugs comedies so prevalent at the time.

Actor Miles Teller (“21 & Over“) plays the young Sutter Keely, a carefree, popular teenaged boy who holds court at raucous, alcohol soaked parties with his pretty girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson).   After a misunderstanding with Cassidy causes their breakup, Keely goes on a drunken bender and awakens on the front lawn of fellow student Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), a quiet, studious girl who reads manga and has a paper route.  This isn’t a “meet cute” type scenario so much as an awkward start to what becomes a developing relationship between the two unlikely students.  The film closely follows Aimee and Sutter as they start dating, accompanying each other to prom, and eventually trying to figure out what to do after graduation.

Director James Ponsaldt isn’t interested in big comedic set pieces or overly dramatic confrontations.  Instead he carefully examines their relationship through long conversational scenes between the two actors, including an astonishing four-minute single take sequence as they stroll through a forest away from a beach party.

 

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Though not as explicitly explored as in Ponsaldt’s previous film “Smashed”, alcoholism and drunken behavior is a major subtext in “The Spectacular Now”.  Sutter carries a flask everywhere, casually spiking his sodas before school, after school, and even at work.  He gets Aimee her own personalized flask, and the film hints that despite their blossoming love, Sutter’s influence on the more sheltered Aimee may not be a healthy one.  This all comes to a head when Sutter demands that he get to meet his long-absent father, who has been shielded from him by his overworked single mother, a small role played perfectly by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

In an award-worthy performance, Kyle Chandler (“Friday Night Lights”, “Super 8“) plays Sutter’s father, a lazy, drunken barfly who takes the young couple to a local tavern.  It’s an absolutely heart-breaking scene, as Sutter attempts to reconnect with a father who has little interest in him, and at the same time sees a possible future for himself should he continue his drunken shenanigans.

“The Spectacular Now is simply the best film about teenagers in years, and deserves a place in that canon alongside the Hughes movies, “Say Anything” or even “The Graduate”.  Part of this is due to the excellent script, penned by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (“(500) Days of Summer“), that was based on the novel of the same name.  Nothing is clichéd or forced, the teens are treated with respect and their dialogue is realistic and honest.  Sutter Keely is more of a post-modern Ferris Bueller, there’s no Cubs games or Ferraris, just disappointments and uncertain futures.  But the majority of the film’s success has to do with the chemistry between actors Teller and Woodley.  Teller (also excellent in “Rabbit Hole“) reminds me of a young John Cusack, an actor who projects a quiet confidence yet hides inner turmoil behind his calm eyes.  And Shailene Woodley (who dazzled in The Descendants) is just amazing as the young woman torn between the love for her destructive boyfriend and her dreams of college.

This is independent filmmaking at its finest, a quietly haunting and moving film that succeeds on its own merits, and not just by avoiding the clichés of the genre.  Director James Ponsaldt is definitely one to watch, and “The Spectacular Now” is already on my short list for best of the year.

 

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RATING:  ***1/2

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 2, 2013 11:53 am

    Great review! I agree–that scene where Sutter spends time with his father is really heart-breaking. It’s such a well-crafted film.

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