'Spectacular' coming-of-age story soars
Few movies have the ability to be both charming and grittily realistic, but August’s limited release indie flick “The Spectacular Now” pulls off this feat masterfully. Directed by James Ponsoldt and written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber of “(500) Days of Summer,” this adaptation of Tim Tharp’s coming-of-age novel truly sparkles.
Shailene Woodley, who made her film debut alongside George Clooney in 2011’s “The Descendents,” plays Aimee, a kind-hearted and intellectual high school senior from a small rural town. Her male counterpart Sutter (Miles Teller) is a life-of-the-party student who lives life without regard for his future or that of others.
The film begins with Sutter waking up on Aimee’s neighbor’s lawn after attempting to drink away the pain of a recent breakup. The pair get along easily, but, unlike in most movies in the genre, there is no instant romantic spark. Aimee is quiet and sweet, whereas Sutter is charming yet unreliable — and secretly alcohol-dependent.
At first, the bond seems one-sided, with Aimee easily forgiving Sutter for his mistakes. But Sutter grows and ultimately falls in love with Aimee as well, though he maintains an abusive alcohol addiction that begins to accompany him in every scene. Both characters have absent fathers, and Sutter’s search for his old man comes crashing down when he realizes that the father he used to look up to has transformed into an alcoholic womanizer, a terrifying window into Sutter’s own potential future.
Woodley and Teller are both relatively new to the movie industry, but their magical on-screen chemistry beats that of the most seasoned actors and actresses.
The film provides a refreshingly down-to-earth approach to their relationship. Aimee and Sutter aren’t perfect for each other, and the ways they live, dress and act don’t conform to the premise of the cookie cutter romantic movie. As much as we in the audience want time to stop for them — accepting for a moment Sutter’s conviction to live in the moment — we know it cannot.
The film has its share of humor and surprises, but it is as its best when it reminds the viewers of their own high school experiences as vulnerable youths firmly convinced of their invincibility.