Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Kyle Chandler, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh
I struggle to call this a coming-of-age film simply because no coming-of-age film has gotten it so right. These characters are so real. We knew them ourselves when we were in high school. We know what it’s like to stare at a screen of a college application (or a paper…) and think to ourselves “Why?”. Ponsoldt doesn’t just create a movie here about a boy coming to terms with growing up, he creates a movie that we really all can relate to. Roger Ebert said it best in his last review when he said “What an affecting film this is. It respects its characters and doesn’t use them for its own shabby purposes. How deeply we care about them. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are so there.”
Plot: Sutter Keely (Teller) is a senior in high school who prides himself in living in the “now”. Why think about the future, when “now” is all that matters? After getting dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter quickly finds an unlikely romance in Aimee (Woodley). Sutter passes on his “living in the now” philosophy to her…along with a small bout of alcoholism (Sutter is constantly a little bit drunk). Aimee has dreams of the future though…something that Sutter doesn’t have a concept of at all.
This is a magnificent movie. Miles Teller really tells (lol) us here that he is more than just the goofball that 21 and Over led us to believe. He has heart. He has emotions. Perhaps he was Sutter Keely…he’s that good. Sutter is struggling as the class clown of his senior class because he has a lot more going on than he would like people to believe. His dad left when he was young and he doesn’t see himself having a future outside of working at a men’s clothing store and drinking after he graduates. We feel for him because we’ve been there. Maybe not those exact circumstances, but we know what it’s like to question what its really like to be an adult. When his math teacher questions his philosophy and whether he really thinks it’s going to help him be successful in the long term or not he replies ” I mean, are you happy?”
Shailene Woodley is amazing as well. She is beautifully natural looking. We all knew a girl like her in school once. She seems simple but once you get to know her, there is a lot more to see. She is the girl who hasn’t had a boyfriend before and falls incautiously in love with Sutter like any other girl in that position would. They are exact opposites but they are drawn to each other. These two actors aren’t just portraying teenagers, or what the filmmaker thinks teenagers are like, they resonate very close to home for many. That’s what made this film so great. Everything is just so natural, we forget for 95 minutes that this is fiction.
Being a college sophomore, I remember vividly the stresses of being a senior in high school. Taking SATs, filling out college applications, making plans for a future that you have no idea how you want to turn out. Ahhhhh yes, good times. So watching Sutter stare blankly at an essay question that will determine whether or not you get into college and blow off school assignments because you simply don’t know why you’re doing them was something I could really connect to. This isn’t just a movie about two teenagers who fall into an unexpected relationship, it’s a movie about turning into an adult within those last few months of your high school career. More importantly, it’s a movie about not wanting to turn into an adult. What good does it do anyway?
The Spectacular Now does something that many coming-of-age films fail to do. Be real. I feel like the genre has become a trap that sucks in what directors and screenwriters dramatize growing up to be like. You don’t have to dramatize growing up…it’s dramatic enough in reality. Ponsoldt perfectly conveyed that period of time in one’s life where “the spectacular now” is absolutely a real thing and also where that sad realization of thinking about the future is indeed necessary sinks in.
Conclusion: Maybe I’m raving about it because I connected so closely with it. Maybe it won’t do the same for you. The Spectacular Now is a everything you would want from it, though. It’s nostalgic, it’s heartbreaking, it’s morose, it’s happy, it’s hopeful….Teller and Woodley were perfect for the roles and were everything that their characters demanded them to be. It has some great acting from the whole cast, a great script, and is definitely more than I expected it to be. It doesn’t do any injustice to the teenage experience and in fact, reflects it in the most accurate and respectful light, which is really what made this movie spectacular.
Read Roger Ebert’s review of The Spectacular Now, which happened to be his last, here.