Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics TIFF Review: 'Cake' Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington & More TIFF Review: 'Cake' Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington & More Watch: First Trailer For Rom-Com 'Playing It Cool' With Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Aubrey Plaza & More Watch: First Trailer For Rom-Com 'Playing It Cool' With Chris Evans, Michelle Monaghan, Aubrey Plaza & More Watch: First Trailer For ‘Serena’ Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper Watch: First Trailer For ‘Serena’ Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper First Look: Matthew McConaughey & Ken Watanabe In Gus Van Sant’s ‘Sea Of Trees’ First Look: Matthew McConaughey & Ken Watanabe In Gus Van Sant’s ‘Sea Of Trees’ Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made Revisiting On The Rise: Where Are Our 2012 Picks Now? Revisiting On The Rise: Where Are Our 2012 Picks Now? Fall TV Preview: Our 22 Most Anticipated Shows For The Rest Of 2014 Fall TV Preview: Our 22 Most Anticipated Shows For The Rest Of 2014 TIFF Review: 'Still Alice' Starring Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin & Kate Bosworth TIFF Review: 'Still Alice' Starring Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin & Kate Bosworth The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes

Sundance Review: Wise & Mature 'The Spectacular Now' Marked By Strong Performances From Miles Teller & Shailene Woodley

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist January 19, 2013 at 1:13PM

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is the charming, good time guy who lives in the moment. Self-assured, he’s the life of the party, popular and he and his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) breeze through their high school experience. Sutter and Cassidy are like a teenage power couple that rule parties thanks to their appeal and all the social lubricants at hand. But, writing an admission letter to the Dean of a university, Sutter reveals his life is at a crossroads. Thinking she's caught him with another girl, Cassidy has dumped him, when the truth is that Sutter was using his good-time skills to help get his timid friend Ricky (Masam Holden) laid. But Cassidy isn’t having it and Sutter can’t see why this is the straw that broke the camel’s back with her.
2
The Spectacular Now


Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is the charming, good time guy who lives in the moment. Self-assured, he’s the life of the party, popular and he and his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) breeze through their high school experience. Sutter and Cassidy are like a teenage power couple that rule parties thanks to their appeal and all the social lubricants at hand. But, writing an admission letter to the Dean of a university, Sutter reveals his life is at a crossroads. Thinking she's caught him with another girl, Cassidy has dumped him, when the truth is that Sutter was using his good-time skills to help get his timid friend Ricky (Masam Holden) laid. But Cassidy isn’t having it and Sutter can’t see why this is the straw that broke the camel’s back with her.

So, Sutter is moving on, and getting ready to enter a new phase of his life: singledom. This means he boozes up, drives around and finds himself blacked out on a random front lawn, his car nowhere in sight. Serendipity strikes as he’s awoken at 6 a..m. by Aimee Finicky (“The Descendants” star Shailene Woodley), who’s doing the rounds on her paper route and finds the popular kid from high school passed out. The meet-cute extends to Sutter helping her drive around to do her paper route so he can also find his car.

Lonely and directionless, Sutter seems charmed by the unpopular (or invisible rather) Aimee who’s introverted and a little bit nerdy, and soon she’s helping him out with his geometry homework and a relationship begins to blossom. Ricky doesn’t understand why of all the girls in school, Sutter is going after Aimee and wonders aloud if this rebound is going to break the impressionable girl’s heart. Sutter is sympathetic to the fact that she’s not a draw at school, but both share a bond in their rocky family lives. Sutter’s mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works at a hospital pulling night shifts and is hardly around. His dad (eventually revealed to be Kyle Chandler) has been absent since he was a child and his sister (“Smashed” star Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the well-intentioned trophy wife of a lawyer, hasn’t worked a day since they married. Aimee’s mom is never seen, but it's clear they're not a wealthy family, and college might just be a pipe dream for her.

"The Spectacular Now"
"The Spectacular Now"

And so while Sutter and Aimee’s relationship blooms into something real and romantic, the 18-year-old still pines for Cassidy, and becomes jealous of Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi), her new beau. And when things start getting serious with Aimee, he plays aloof. But once the relationship settles, Sutter takes Aimee on a three-hour pilgrimage to visit his father and the teenager is in for a rude awakening. This meet-up dovetails with a self-realization for Sutter: while beloved, no one takes him seriously. He is so intent on living in the now that people can’t invest in his future. His fecklessness and boozing (a spiked 7-11 cup is never far from his hand), was a factor in Cassidy leaving him, and while Aimee wants Sutter to follow her to college in Philadelphia, he begins to realize that he may not be the best influence on her.

Much more meaty drama than teen comedy, director James Ponsoldt (“Smashed”) treats the story and characters with respect and seriousness almost to a fault. While not dour, “The Spectacular Now” can also be tremendously heavy. That’s not a bad thing, the picture is far more substantive than most teen relationship films, but it could probably use just a smidgeon of levity here and there after the first act.

Ponsoldt’s picture is self-possessed, mature and deeply patient, but it’s perhaps not at the exact pace some audiences are accustomed to. At 95 minutes, “The Spectacular Now” feels closer to two hours and that’s both to its benefit and minor detriment. Marked by long takes -- one steady-cam shot is seven minutes long -- Ponsoldt puts the emphasis on his actors and considering how good his cast is, it’s a smart move. Teller, who went toe-to-toe with Nicole Kidman in the criminally underrated “Rabbit Hole,” is effortlessly real in the movie. Woodley is terrific and painfully genuine, and across the board, the entire cast (which also includes Andre Royo from "The Wire" and "Breaking Bad" star Bob Odenkirk) imbues an authenticity that adds to the true-feeling greater whole.

The Spectacular Now

Written by the guys who penned “(500) Days Of Summer”), the thematic element of alcohol (also present in Ponsoldt’s previous picture “Smashed”) is disconcerting, yet accurate storytelling. Clearly Sutter has a drinking problem like his father, but neither the script or the filmmakers attempt to round off the edges here and give the teenager any safe life lessons to learn from (though there is one small moment of self-recognition near the end). While the audience craves Sutter to find some resolution here, wrapping up all his problems would just be too clean and neat. This is more true to life, even if it’s a harder pill to swallow. This kid is clearly a work in progress, who is only now just waking up to the world and himself and figuring out who he truly is.

Don’t be surprised if the film is sold like “(500) Days Of Summer” (or a similar film) when it eventually makes its way to theaters, but this picture is particularly darker, sadder and pained. “The Spectacular Now” is wise beyond its years, charismatic, measured and authentic in its depiction of the pains, confusions and insecurities of the teenage experience, and while its deliberate rhythm may prove to be a harder sell among the teen crowd, it’s a valuable and honest film that’s worth the investment. [B]

This article is related to: The Spectacular Now , James Ponsoldt, Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, Review, Sundance Film Festival, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates