Movie Review: The Spectacular Now


A high school senior gets dumped by his girlfriend and starts seeing a new girl, but his budding alcoholism gets in the way.


James Ponsoldt, 2013

While writing a college application essay, the only hardship Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) can think of to write about is his recent break-up with the beautiful, popular Cassidy (Brie Larson). After a night of heavy drinking to try to move on from the break-up, Sutter meets Aimee Finnecky (Shailene Woodley), who discovers him passed out on the side of the road. He helps her with her paper run, then asks her to have lunch with him. Lunch inspires a study date, which becomes a relationship. At first Sutter insists to his friends that he isn’t really interested in the naive Aimee, but they get closer as Sutter seeks out his absentee father Tommy (Kyle Chandler), who has been kept at a distance by Sutter’s mother Sara (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and sister Holly (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Soon enough, Sutter’s drinking starts to endanger all his relationships.


This film has a great young cast who turn in naturalistic, powerful performances, but in spite of its interesting, inherently dramatic premise, it doesn’t quite have the impact it should. It builds the relationship between Sutter and Aimee carefully, and the pair share a natural, easy chemistry. There’s a realism to this relationship, with the soft-hearted Aimee being desperate to please her first boyfriend Sutter, and Sutter torn between being the decent, caring guy Aimee loves and the cool, popular party boy. His “live in the now” philosophy that inspires the film’s title is untied in a few interesting scenes, but it could be more deeply explored. The film never directly addresses his drinking as being alcoholism, but the implication is strong, and his father is the same. Kyle Chandler is used sparingly and effectively, breaking Sutter’s heart thoughtlessly. It feels like a lot of the run time is spent not getting to the tipping point, though, and the note of hope at the end doesn’t quite feel earned. The pacing is off, and the movie hits its fair share of lulls in the action.

An indie hipster aesthetic runs through the movie. There’s a dreamy quality to the movie that belies its dark underbelly, but Miles Teller is perfectly capable of bringing those elements of the character to the surface. He keeps a level of tension simmering below the surface behind charming smiles. Shailene Woodley is genuine and sweet as Aimee, making it impossible not to like the makeup-free manga-loving teen. Brie Larson gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop with the flip-flopping Cassidy, but she’s capable enough to make it work. The portrayals of most of the other teens in the movie are shallower than Sutter and Aimee, which is a shame. I almost want to see a sequel to this film, to dig deeper into the themes and characters presented here; The Spectacular Now feels unfinished somehow. If you want to see the next generation of great actors do their thing, it’s worth checking out, but it’s a lesser film than I was expecting.

The Spectacular Now on IMDb


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