VOD film review: The Spectacular Now
James R | On 07, Jan 2022
Director: James Ponsoldt
Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh
This review was originally published in 2014.
The Spectacular Now. That’s where Sutter (Teller) lives. It’s a great place, as far as he sees it, full of alcohol, dangerous driving, the perfect girlfriend (Brie Larson) and no worries. But when she leaves him, that perfect world falls apart, piece by messy piece.
It may not sound particularly original but James Ponsoldt’s film feels like a fresh entry in the teen movie canon. Its secret weapon? Honesty.
Playing the stereotypical cool kid, Miles Teller has the charisma to make you like him, even though he’s a douche. So it’s perhaps no wonder that the naive, bookish Amie (Woodley) should succumb to his charms. But the script – by (500) Days of Summer’s Scott Neudstadter and Michael H Weber and based on the novel by Tim Tharp – isn’t afraid to dig up the dirt beneath that odd couple surface.
Amie is rounded enough to be human rather than manic or pixie-like, leaving Sutter to play the Manic Pixie Dream Boy – the guy who acts like he can give her what she’s never had in her life. But there’s no getting round the fact that he’s a mess; swigging from a soft drink cup he’s filled with booze, he spends his days so loaded he can barely remember last week, let alone think about the future. The introduction of his similarly minded father (Kyle Chandler playing brilliantly against type) shows exactly where his attitude is headed – a negative streak that subverts the optimism of youth with the pain of hindsight.
The contrast between the young couple is never clearer than in one awkward dinner party with Sutter’s socialite sister. As Amie outlines her plans to get married and move to Boston for college, an acquaintance remarks: “Sounds like a dream.” Amie smiles: “Having dreams is a good thing.”
That sincerity is where The Spectacular Now lands its punch. Fresh from a scene-stealing turn in The Descendants, Shailene Woodley feels just as real here, helping the tale of Sutter’s downfall – and possible redemption? – to never seem clichéd. Ponsoldt (who also directed the fantastic – and equally candid – Smashed) shoots their exchanges with long takes, letting long walks by lakes unfold with an unrehearsed air, yet still finds time to blindside your expectations.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” yells Sutter after a heated argument goes wrong. “You almost died and you’re worried if I’m OK?” The Spectacular Now is an anti-teen movie that deconstructs the teenage dream typically presented on screen piece by piece with harsh cynicism – but that genuine emotion quietly starts to build it back up again. The result is a raw drama that’s so absorbing you won’t have time to think about anything other than the present.