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SUNDANCE: The Spectacular Now (***½)

Yes, this film is downright spectacular…

spectacular nowThe very best film at the Sundance Film Festival, The Spectacular Now is one of the strongest coming of age stories that we’ve had this decade. Fueled by a revelatory performance by Miles Teller and one by Shailene Woodley that deserves to be remembered at the Oscars next year, this is an incredible little flick. Smashed (2012) director James Ponsoldt has teamed up with Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the scribes of (500) Days of Summer (2009), and the end result is something truly special. I’ve seen many a movie take the broad strokes of this film and craft an inferior product out of it, but this team hit a home run. Perhaps some of the magic was there in the young adult novel upon which this film is based on, but a lot of it has to have come from this cast and crew. All are at the top of their games and they completely won me over. I’d love for this to become the awards contender from Park City for 2013, but regardless of if it does or not, it’s already got a special place in my heart. Expect to hear a lot more about this flick from me as the year goes on.

A dramedy that brilliantly reflects that period of adolescence when high school is ending, the film is narrated by our protagonist Sutter Keely (Teller). Sutter is the kind of guy who lives in the moment and pays no mind to what the future may hold. He’s a smart kid, nice to his classmates, and the life of the party, but class is of no interest to him. All he needs are his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) and a drink in his hand. The former is removed from the equation when she gets the wrong idea about him trying to get his one of his friends laid. That leads to him getting drunk that night and passing out. He wakes up the next morning on the lawn of classmate Aimee Finicky (Woodley). She knows who he is, and he claims to know her, though they’ve never run in the same circles. She’s a bit of a bookworm, someone who wakes up at 6am to do her mother’s paper route for her instead of first getting home then. Sutter takes a liking to her and wants to help her loosen up, but Aimee is falling for him. They soon embark on a tentative relationship, but Aimee is going places and Sutter has yet to learn that his current path is one of alcoholism and destruction. The movie is incredibly honest about this type of situation, but it’s also rather unsentimental. The chips fall where they have to. I was moved nearly to tears…

the-spectacular-now-miles-teller-shailene-woodleyMiles Teller is someone who had yet to really impress me, but he did that in a big way here. He’s able to play the part perfectly, mixing charm, charisma, and defense mechanisms into a way of life his character refuses to believe isn’t a permanent way to go about life. I didn’t know that Teller had it in him. As for Shailene Woodley, well…she’s nothing short of brilliant. She inhabits this character who’s a real person, not some cinematic construct. She also sticks to her guns and keeps the person moving in the direction that real life would have her go, not just what a romantic comedy would do. Their chemistry together is magical. As good as Teller is, Woodley is even better and I can already envision her getting snubbed for an Oscar nomination. The supporting characters are great too, with Kyle Chandler and Mary Elizabeth Winstead stealing their scenes. The aforementioned Brie Larson is good too, and the rest of the cast includes solid turns from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Dayo Okeniyi. The duo of Teller and Woodley are the screen couple of the year though, mark it down now.

I thought that James Ponsoldt was headed in the right direction with Smashed last year, but he’s stepped up his game in a great way here. His direction is smooth and assured, letting the characters and story do the work for him. He’s certainly aided by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who come close to matching their (500) Days of Summer brilliance. This is less of a unique work, but it’s nearly as impressive. Ponsoldt has got a ticket to the A-list headed his way if he continues to direct like he’s doing here. As for Neustadter and Weber…they really need to work more, since they’re singular talents in need of more recognition. Individual elements of this flick resemble what Ponsoldt tackled previously, but it’s handled through a very different prism, and I’d actually argue that it’s all the more effective for it!

The Spectacular Now is a spectacular film. I wish I could avoid that obvious remark, but it’s just plain apt.  I plan on watching it again when it hits theaters later on in 2013 and seeing if I’m still as in love with it as I am now. If that’s the case, then this rating might get bumped up. No matter how you slice it, this is a brilliant motion picture. I can’t recommend it enough.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!

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Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.


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Jessie Makowski

Wow! I can’t wait to see this one. It sounds like something I’d absolutely love!


I’m definitely intrigued. I think Woodley was hugely snubbed for her work on THE DESCENDANTS, and while I wasn’t a fan of (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, I think the writing at least showed promise. So I’d definitely like to check it out.


Finally, a teenager movie where the main character doesn’t want to be a writer, come to terms with being gay, or have a disgustingly quirky job and attire (Perks, 500 Days). This sounds appropriately serious, and I will definitely check it out.

Robbie M.

I’m really upset that I couldn’t get a ticket for this one when I was at the fest, I guess I’ll have to wait like everybody else for the theatrical release. My friends and I stood in the waitlist line for more than three hours, then were only four seats away from getting in.

paula gajardo

I definitely would watched this! i love (500) days of summer, and Shailene Woodley do an amazing job doing the descendants. I can’t wait to see this



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