The Spectacular Now—out in theaters today—takes a look at the final days of senior year for two high school students who are on the cusp of becoming adults. However, this film intoxicates its audiences with the introduction of some smart characters who are complex, yet naïve. The charming, comedic moments are woven with ease throughout the drama.
In the opening moments of The Spectacular Now—which is an adaptation of Tim Tharp’s 2008 book—17-year-old Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is struggling to complete the dreaded task of filling out a personal essay for college. As he types and deletes his answers, we get a peek into a pivotal year in his life and discover that he’s not quite sure who he is or what he wants. Sutter isn’t a jock or a nerd, and doesn’t quite fit into any teenage angst-ridden stereotypes. He is, however, the “it-kid”—a confident, smooth-talker and the life of the party, but not arrogant by any means. Sutter will go out of his way to help his friend get a girlfriend, talk to the shy kids at school, or lend a listening ear. On the other hand, something is amiss in his life and although he’s intelligent, he’s squandering away his grades in class and regularly takes swigs of whisky out of his flask without any hesitation.
When Sutter is dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) over a misunderstanding, he goes on an all-night drinking bender—something of the norm for this teen—in his suburban town in Georgia, and finds himself passed out on the lawn the next morning, woken up by Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). She is the opposite of Sutter—book-smart and on her way to college with a bright future ahead. Although she is shy, she isn’t a complete outcast, but is content in her seemingly normal world. Aimee just hasn’t had enough life experiences to break out of her shell yet. As much as Sutter tries to deny it, Aimee’s charm is irresistible—from her love for sci-fi manga to helping out her mom on her daily paper route—and he can’t help falling for her.
Sutter and Aimee bond over their non-nuclear families and he looks into the reasons behind the divorce between his mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and estranged father (Kyle Chandler). As the two get closer, Sutter unintentionally drags Aimee into the dark places in his life and in his mentality to live in the now—the not-so-spectacular now.
Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are able to draw out a strong narrative and create intricate characters in The Spectacular Now, as they did with 500 Days of Summer. While Sutter isn’t perfect and his actions are rash at times, it must be remembered that he is a teen after all, and one with alcoholism. Director James Ponsoldt isn’t a stranger to this topic, as his 2012 drama Smashed also dealt with the demons of alcohol.
Teller and Woodley portray their characters with ease and charm—revealing a maturity level well beyond their years—and the chemistry between them is undeniable. Teller’s gift of gab seems natural, similar to John Cusack in 80s films like Say Anything, and Woodley brings out a perfectly-melded character with a warm, yet reserved nature—much different from her role in 2012 Oscar-winner The Descendants.
The Spectacular Now offers much more than just a story about two teens in love. It takes viewers on a ride through those dizzying last moments in school, when the path to the future isn’t clear. Yet, it is able to get viewers to still look at life in wonderment. It’s easy to get engrossed in Sutter and Aimee’s world.