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Sundance Review: Romance 'The Spectacular Now' Works on Star Chemistry

Thompson on Hollywood By Nora Chute | Thompson on Hollywood January 19, 2013 at 10:38PM

"The Spectacular Now," James Ponsoldt's follow-up to last year's Sundance hit "Smashed," manages to be realistic without being dour, funny without being a caricature, and romantic without being sappy.
The Spectacular Now

"The Spectacular Now," James Ponsoldt's third film and follow-up to last year's Sundance special-jury-prize-winner "Smashed," is realistic but not dour, funny but not a caricature, and romantic but not sappy.

The two young stars, Miles Teller ("Footloose") and Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants") sell this sweet, simple, and moving story with plenty of chemistry. They could both break out of this movie--especially if it hits--not unlike Keira Knightley in "Bend It Like Beckham" or Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone."

Adapted by "(500) Days of Summer" screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weberon from Tim Tharp's novel, Ponsoldt's film again offers plenty of heavy drinking, but that's not the main focus. Teller makes his life-of-the-party character charming, sweet, and empathetic, while Woodley turns Aimee into more than the familiar nerdy wallflower trope; she's an endearing, smart, and open girl. "Smashed" star Elizabeth Winstead and "21 Jump Street"'s Brie Larson are also on hand.

Shot during the sweaty, humid summer in Athens, Georgia, the cast wore virtually no make-up, marking the first time I've seen a teen movie starring adolescents with visible zits, scars, and sweat stains.  This lack of vanity is part of the movie's overall charm; the Friday Library audience was laughing, yelping, and groaning along with the characters.

Ponsoldt shot the movie on 35 mm film with long takes, which makes it a welcome relief from trendy rapid cuts and artsy concept shots.  "I love unbroken emotional moments," Ponsoldt said at the Q & A, which allowed him to capture "what's happening in between the beats."

Sony Pictures Classics picked up "Smashed" at last year's fest, while Fox Searchlight released Woodley's "The Descendants" and "(500) Days of Summer."

Here's a Filmmaker interview with Ponsoldt.

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Festivals, Festivals, Reviews, Reviews, Smashed

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.