The Spectacular Now (***½)


spectacular_nowThe very best film that I saw back at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, The Spectacular Now is one of the strongest coming of age stories that we’ve had this decade and easily one of the best films of the year so far (as well as the only film I’ve been moved enough to attend multiple screenings of so far in 2013). Fueled by a revelatory performance by Miles Teller and a brilliant one by Shailene Woodley that deserves to be remembered at the Oscars next year, this is an incredible little flick. Director James Ponsoldt has teamed up with Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the scribes of (500) Days of Summer to adapt the young adult novel of the same name, 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 an absolute home run. Perhaps some of the magic was there in the aforementioned novel upon which this film is based, but a lot of it has to have come from this cast and crew. All of them are at the top of their respective games and they completely won me over. Pun aside, this film is downright spectacular.

A moving 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 when both characters realize just what kind of a situation they’re in.

spectacular nowMiles Teller is someone who had yet to really impress me aside from his supporting turn in Rabbit Hole, 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 believe that she’s more than worthy of a Best Actress 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 (who has one absolutely beautiful scene) and Dayo Okeniyi. The duo of Teller and Woodley are the high school screen couple of the year though, mark it down.

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 and very noticeable 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 slightly 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 (also considering he’s attached to the Hilary Clinton biopic now, among other things). As for Neustadter and Weber…they really need to work more, since they’re singular talents in need of more recognition, which might come either this year or next year when they adapt another baity young adult novel in The Fault in our Stars (which also will star Woodley). 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!

Awards wise, it’s probably going to be an uphill battle for The Spectacular Now, but both Woodley in Best Actress and the script in Best Adapted Screenplay deserve to be in heavy contention. I’d love to see Best Picture as well, along with Ponsoldt considered for Best Director and Teller for Best Actor, but those are far less of a realistic play for the film to make. Woodley and the script is where it’s at. They might wind up coming up a bit short, but it won’t be for a lack of quality…

The Spectacular Now is a spectacular film, I have to say it again. I wish I could avoid that obvious remark, but it’s just plain apt here. I planned on watching it again after that initial Sundance screening and I went out of my way to make sure I saw it again. The flick is just as good the second time around, so much so that I damn near went up to four stars with this re-review of sorts (at one point I had decided to re-review this film for that purpose before ultimately not wanting to overrule myself). I wish there was an in between, honestly, since this is the very type of movie that deserves that kind of score. No matter how you slice it, this is a brilliant motion picture. I can’t recommend it enough and am thrilled that audiences will now get to see what I’ve been making such a fuss about…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!