The Spectacular Now (2013) Review

The Spectacular Now is a teen romantic drama starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. James Ponsoldt’s (Smashed) film follows high school senior Sutter Keely (Teller) as he struggles with relationships, family, and his impending adulthood. After being dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), Sutter undergoes a night of drunken debauchery to ease his sorrows. He wakes the next morning to a worried Aimee Finicky (Woodley) standing over him, and a chemistry between the pair emerges immediately. Through their budding relationship, Sutter and Aimee aim to help each other through the tribulations of deadbeat parents and the existential crisis that is life after high school.

This film is carried almost entirely by the performance of Teller. Although this may be due to the fact that his character is the only wholly fleshed out character in the script, Teller brings some much needed heart to the overdone archetypal character that he plays. Where Woodley’s performance is slow to heat up, Teller gives a consistent performance as a disillusioned teen whose live-for-the-moment attitude toward life is sending him down a path of alcoholism and emptiness. Equally powerful is the small role of Sutter’s father (played with perfect subtlety by Kyle Chandler). His scene is far and away the most profound of the entire film, and it would likely have lost that profundity in a less-skilled actor’s hands. Aside from these characters, the script disallows any multi-dimensionality from occurring. Even though Larsen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead all offer decent performances, the flatness of their characters leaves something to be desired.

Overall, The Spectacular Now falls victim to some of the more groan-inducing clichés of teen dramas–a poorly staged party scene, a stereotypical prom scene, a less than necessary (or provocative) sex scene. What’s most hard to swallow is the form in which the thesis of the entire film is addressed: a college entrance essay. This leads to a non-spectacular second act, but this is followed up by a somewhat redeeming finale half-hour (minus the voice-over of Sutter’s finale essay).

The Post-Script:

In my honest opinion, this is not Ponsoldt’s best movie. Perhaps the story is at fault in this case, but my recommendation would be to see his 2012 film Smashed, which also stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a spectacular performance (I know this is the second time I used spectacular to describe something in this review. I promise I won’t do it again).

The Spectacular Now is not a bad movie, but there is definitely something lacking about it. The characters could be much more developed, and Woodley’s performance in the first half of the film leaves something to be desired.

If you want to see Miles Teller in an even more spec- (sorry) amazing performance, go see Whiplash, a film by Damien Chazelle. It’s one of my favorite movies of 2014.



As always, thanks for reading!

Have you seen The Spectacular Now? If so, what did you think of the film? Do you think the supporting characters were more three-dimensional than I did? Do you think I should have called more things “spectacular”? Let me know in the comments!

–Alex Brannan

@TheAlexBrannan on Twitter

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