The Spectacular Now
DVD Release Date: January 14, 2014
Reviewed by: Michael Oborn
Sutter Keely (Max Teller) is the guy you wished you were friends with in high school. He is always the life of the party, a plug for alcohol, and a great wingman. Sutter’s motto is to “live in the now,” but with that maxim, the high school senior seems to avoid what the future holds for him. In the opening scenes, we see Sutter doing shots, pounding brews and using his charismatic, laid back personality to get people to gravitate towards him. Next to him is his partner in crime and girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson). After a misunderstanding, Cassidy realizes that she wants more than being in the moment and is convinced that Sutter won’t be able to provide the future that she desires. The break-up sends him into an epic night of partying, which ends with him passed out on a lawn.
In enters Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), the quiet, awkward girl at his high school who has managed to remain anonymous. On her mom’s paper route (seriously, this girl is a saint), she discovers a passed-out Sutter and proceeds to wake him up on the lawn. Despite being classmates, Sutter is unable to recall who she is, but he offers to help her on her paper route, in hopes of finding his lost vehicle somewhere in town. Despite being completely different, Sutter and Aimee are almost immediately drawn to each other.
The story has been done before… The classic high school tale of the cool guy unexpectedly falling for the awkward, dorky girl. Though this sounds like She’s All That and (insert generic teen movie here), The Spectacular Now is a much-needed breath of fresh air to an already-saturated, tired genre of the high school coming-of-age film. The difference between this film and the others is that the love story between Sutter and Aimee is the secondary story.
The primary focus is with Sutter, and his personal demons. He is constantly seen wielding a flask or sipping on booze mixed with soda in a big gulp cup. Throughout the entire film, Sutter maintains a buzz to cope with his pain and the uncertainty of the future. Even during his courting stage with Aimee, Sutter acts under the influence. A first kiss and an invitation to prom is a moment that the inexperienced Aimee will remember vividly forever, but it is a moment that Sutter tries to recall during his hungover haze. Everything surrounding Sutter is secondary, with alcohol in the forefront.
As the unlikely friendship turns romantic, Aimee and Sutter push each other to better themselves. Aimee stands up to her mother about attending college, while Sutter demands his mother and sister give him the contact information of his father, who has been absent for the majority of his life. The film shifts from love story to a cautionary tale of what Sutter’s future could be when he makes contact with his boozy father (Kyle Chandler). Always concerned with the now, the heart breaking interaction between the confused teen and the ghost of his future self in his father makes Sutter feel as if his fate is already sealed.
The story works because writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer) incorporate humor for all the characters. All the characters feel complete, which may not be able to be said about 500 Days of Summer. Though Aimee is seen as the cliché dorky, innocent girl, we see there is much more to that than meets the surface. Like Sutter, the audience falls for the sweet girl and appreciates the tough, self-aware girl beneath. Along with alcohol, she becomes one of the few constants in Sutter’s life. Her presence and support for Sutter is there no matter how badly Sutter screws up or pushes her out.
Teller and Woodley were perfectly cast, and the insane, yet believable chemistry between the two leads is what really makes the movie. The humor, attraction, and the awkwardness perfectly depicts high school romance and young love. The sex scene that Teller and Woodley share is so powerful. The scene felt like it took forever, but it captures the awkwardness, the wonder, and the excitement the first time holds.
I was pleasantly surprised by what Woodley brought to the table. The only other thing I recognized her from was the television series The Secret Life of an American Teenager. From the couple episodes I’ve watched (when -errrr- my sister made me watch?), I didn’t think she was capable of the depth she showed in The Spectacular Now. The supporting characters also do a bang-up job. Brie Larson as Sutter’s ex-girlfriend with new priorities but lingering feelings; Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter’s hard-working mother; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Sutter’s older, snobby-like sister; Kyle Chandler as Sutter’s drunk dad; and Breaking Bad‘s Saul, Bob Odenkirk, as Dan, Sutter’s boss.
But, make no mistake about it, this movie is about Max Teller’s Sutter. Max Teller absolutely crushes his role. We have seen the party boy antics and the charisma come through in lesser movies such as 21 & Over and Project X, but he is finally utilized properly in The Spectacular Now. He is our tragic hero. Though his actions frustrate us, his charisma makes it so much more easier to forgive him, much like Aimee does.
The Spectacular Now is one of the better recent coming-of-age stories. Humor and quirkiness are present, but the true strength of the film lies within the actors and characters and their ability to draw you in with their emotional performances. The Spectacular Now brings one of the most believable, realistic commentaries on the perils of growing up and high school romance. It takes a near-flawless movie to stick out from the rest of the coming-of-age movies and that is what The Spectacular Now is… near-flawless. Or, to quote our two main characters Sutter and Aimee, the movie is ‘awesome’, ‘so awesome’ and is definitely worth viewing.