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The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now

What She said:


Nowadays, I often shy away from movies about teenagers.  Frankly, I find most of today’s youth to be whiny, entitled, and not too bright.  I know, I’m just a cranky old fogey.  Moreover, I often find films’ depiction of teenagers to be a magnification of the reality, and hence even more painful.  This brings me to The Spectacular Now.  While I wouldn’t say that the film was entirely enjoyable, it brought a sense of authenticity to what it’s like to be a confused hormonal teenager, and showed the darker side of the high school years.

The Spectacular Now follows a graduating senior name Sutter (Miles Teller).  Sutter is extremely popular because he’s a class clown.  He pretty much drifts from day to day, being entertaining and likeable, but also acting disingenuous and flakey.  He’s got what he considers the perfect girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), also popular and quite adorable.  But his artificial world of happiness begins to fall apart as time creeps closer to graduation and Cassidy decides to move on from Sutter.  Sutter starts to realize that he’s nothing more than a broken alcoholic with little ambition and no actual goals for his future. 

While this realization is happening, he also meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a sweet girl from a messed up family who has a big heart and even bigger dreams.  Aimee compliments Sutter so well, as she brings out his genuine goodness, and he finds himself drawn to help her.  Sutter and Aimee begin a friendship that develops into something more.  But for all the good that they bring each other, they also bring bad, particularly as Sutter’s bad habits start to wear off on Aimee.  With graduation looming, and thus the beginning of the next chapter of their lives, will Sutter and Aimee be able to move past their demons and grow into responsible adults?

I found this movie to be fascinating.  Depressing?  Yes.  But also pretty interesting.  Sutter is a party boy—and yes, I knew plenty just like him when I was in high school.  He’s carefree and funny, but this outward demeanor shields the fact that he’s on a dangerous road, from which there may be no turning back.  Frankly, he’s an alcoholic.  As we learn more about Sutter’s background, we begin to realize that this may be a hereditary thing, and is supported by Sutter’s difficulty with dealing with his family’s abandonment by his father.  Sutter surely does not seem like a bad guy, but he’s unable to move past his drinking habit and set goals for himself.  In the meantime, while he attempts to help others, all he really does is serve as a negative influence.  We see this with his ex-girlfriend Cassidy, and as heartbreaking as it is to witness, we see this with Aimee. 

The Spectacular Now

As the viewer moves through the film, we become distinctly aware of the timeline that we’re working with—graduation is drawing closer—and, if you’re like me, you’ll start to wonder if everything can sort itself out in time for a fulfilling ending.  Honestly, you’re rooting for Sutter and Aimee to turn things around, but you start to worry that it might not be practical.  Perhaps they’ll be trapped in their hometown forever, working blue collar jobs and drinking themselves into oblivion.  The third act of this film is particularly moving, as we finally have the opportunity to meet Sutter’s father. 

The Spectacular Now is a fascinating character study that deals with themes of family, addiction, and loss, as well as approaches the larger issue of growing up.  There were moments of the movie that I found somewhat painful, as I did not enjoy seeing the direction that Sutter and Aimee’s relationship went in.  But I also acknowledge the fact that the movie decided to tell an authentic story that wasn’t just about pleasing fans. 

Kudos to all our main actors here, as this was clearly a low budget film and they really carried the weight of the story on their backs.  While I wouldn’t say that anything about this movie was subpar, there were no fancy camera tricks or lighting to fool wow the viewer.  The movie is all about the characters and the story, and it’s the strong acting from the cast that made this film work.

You won’t leave this movie feeling particularly good about what you watched, but The Spectacular Now is a solid film about growing up and facing adulthood. 

Thumbs mostly up.

The Spectacular Now


What he said:


I sat on this one for a while. I had to mull this movie over a decent amount. I honestly didn’t know how I felt about it. I did, but I didn’t, and didn’t want to commit to anything until I let my opinion ferment for a while.

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is the life of the party. He and his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) are the most popular couple in school and people follow them wherever they go; and when there they are always the center of attention. Sutter loves his life. That is until Cassidy breaks up with him.

The two still talk regularly after the break up – and she even leads him on about getting back together at times – but is also quick to turn him away when he shows interest. As a result, they both move on. Well, sort of. They are each dating somebody else, but also spend a lot of time with one another talking and reminiscing about the good old days.

The girl that Sutter has been seeing is the exact opposite of the kind of gal he usually goes for. Aimee Finecky (Shailine Woodley) is very smart, very dedicated to her future, and not a very social kid. Some people would label her a loser or an outcast. She has friends, she’s just not a part of the in crowd like Sutter or Cassidy. Over time, the two begin to hang out more-and-more and eventually become a couple, despite remarks from some of Sutter’s friends. Sutter passes it off like he – as the popular kid – is doing Aimee a favor by dating her, and boosting both her confidence and popularity, but we know he really cares for her.

The Spectacular Now

Did I mention that Sutter is an alcoholic? I don’t mean that Sutter simply parties a little too much, but rather that he’s a legitimate alcoholic. He walks around pretty much 24/7 with one of those giant soda cups you buy from 7/11, WaWa, or whatever your local convenience store chain is in your neck of the woods. He goes everywhere with it. Work, school, driving a car, that cup is always in his hand. He’s got a flask he always carries too.

That was actually my biggest complaint about the movie. I know plenty of kids who liked to party – more than the average kid – growing up. I can an even think of some who – like Sutter – could be called genuine alcoholics. But how easily he parades around town was a little insulting to the audience’s intelligence. He is always buzzed, but nobody says anything to him? His boss doesn’t say…maybe fire him? No teacher pulls him aside to tell him – or his mother – he might have a problem? He never gets busted for a DUI? His mom doesn’t notice? If nothing else, the kid has to reek of booze. I get that kids sneak around and hide things from their parents or authority figures, but not a single person in this kids notice he’s drunk all the time?

Aside from that, I felt it was a pretty good movie. It captured the teenage experience very well, had some great performances, and was a good story. The two leads were great. I really felt like I was watching two kids who were from the opposite ends of the popularity scale meet, fall in love, and be exposed to problems of not only teenage love, but addiction and legitimate – and not just I hate my parents kind of stuff – problems at home. Jennifer Jason-Leigh was solid as Sutter’s mom, Mary Elizabeth Winestead was also good as his older sister, who is at a different point in her life. Kyle Chandler was excellent as his estranged father. None of the adults had significant screen time, but when they had a scene, they were good, KyleChandler in particular.

But like I said, I had trouble swallowing just how easily this kid walked around almost always drunk. My suspension of disbelief meter wasn’t working overtime, because it was broken. I’m not naïve. I was a teenager myself, but this kid didn’t even really hide what it was he was doing, but somehow never got caught or had to deal with any repercussions? I wasn’t buying it.

Rating: Thumbs half up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on February 1, 2014.