By Richard Haridy
May 6, 2014
From the outside, The Spectacular Now looks like a generic teen story we’ve seen a million times before: the cool kid falls for the shy, awkward girl and over the course of a summer learns the value of true friendship. What’s most magical about The Spectacular Now is how it packs its conventional frame with such sincerity, honesty and charm, changing an oft-told tale into an insightful examination of growing up in the 21st century.
Miles Teller plays Sutter, a wonderfully rich character who is affable, friendly, well-liked, but simply can’t look past the “spectacular now”. After being dumped by his girlfriend for his inability to plan for the future, Sutter meets Amy (Shailene Woodley), a quiet girl who keeps to herself and isn’t especially popular.
The film slowly but assuredly charts the growing relationship between these two characters who have much more in common than they first realise. Adapted from a novel, director James Ponsoldt hit a goldmine with his casting of Teller and Woodley. Both actors are genuine revelations, bringing a gorgeous naturalistic sense to their performances. Teller, who has mostly given us dreck like Project X and 21 & Over, inhabits Sutter so deeply that what has previously come off as smarm appears here as compellingly charming. Woodley’s work also feels startlingly real and unlike anything we’ve seen in a teen movie to date.
Like Ponsoldt’s first effort, Smashed, alcohol plays a key role in The Spectacular Now. However, rather than simply turn the feature into a predictable addiction parable, he treats his characters’ alcoholism with sophistication and sensitivity. In fact, every time the film teeters on the precipice of a generic plot point it satisfyingly withdraws into more subtle and nuanced territory that ultimately coalesces in a final act that is sentimental without being sugary.
An impressive supporting cast including Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyle Chandler as well as some beautiful widescreen photography from Jess Hall all work to make The Spectacular Now into one of the best, most original and sincere teen dramas to be seen in quite some time. A spectacular achievement indeed.
The Spectacular Now will be available on Quickflix from May 7, 2014.