Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Spectacular Now: Worth The Time.

Movie Review: The Spectacular Now

Director: James Ponsoldt

Reviewed: 14 September 2014

jamesintexas rating--***

James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now takes so many right steps that when a misstep finally occurs in the last two minutes of the film, it threatens to under the power of what came before it. A teenage romance film that eschews cliche for heart, The Spectacular Now focuses on Sutter (Miles Teller), a senior in a sort of arrested development; he's unable to plan ahead for his future, he stumbles through his life mostly drunk, and he has a painful relationship with him mom, a nonexistent one with his absent dad. When Sutter loses his girlfriend, he wakes up on a lawn without a car and to the sight of Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a girl at his school who knows him while he doesn't know her. She's delivering her paper route for her mom at 6 a.m., and Sutter tags along. A burgeoning friendship starts out, in the beginning mostly as a vehicle for Sutter to make his ex-girlfriend jealous and possibly just to rebound from that relationship. But Aimee's vulnerability and sheer loveliness make a strong impression on Sutter who simultaneously believes he isn't making her fall in love with him while doing so. The relationship has an air of second semester senior year, with the time running out of their hands as futures are planned, colleges applied to and accepted, relationships cemented or broken.

The film sharply shows the creation of a couple with its shared language and its us against the world quality. Both promise to each other to confront their parents about major events. Both struggle with figuring out their place in the world and the next step. The supporting performances are all equally strong from teachers to bosses to parents, and to say more would be a sin. Some of the surprises of the film are heart-wrenching. The film never condescends or makes things cliche with Sutter and Aimee, and its intense focus on them means ignoring the supporting cast around them to a degree. Only Sutter's ex-girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) manages to make an impression, though never resulting in an honest conversation between her and Aimee. The film skips over major scenes and events, content with showing us the aftermath of graduation. It takes its young characters seriously, and their quests of self-discovery are often painful and poignant. I wish it took Aimee a bit more seriously and presented her life with more richness, but the director is diving deep into Sutter, so that's a limitation. Both actors work well together and create a believable chemistry. Teller's eyes depict a sadness in Sutter, a slowly dawning realization that the life of the party may not be where he wants to be.

I hope The Spectacular Now finds its audience. There are a million gross-out teenage comedies or films that showcase school and graduation in a crass, almost nasty way. This film is more interested in grabbing your heart and carrying you along with its journey. I don't believe the courage of the film and its depiction of teenage alcoholism among other things warrants complete forgiveness for the abrupt shift in the last minutes. Perhaps a studio head wanted a different ending. It feels false in a film where everything else doesn't. That's saying something, even if the film only approaches spectacular.

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