The Spectacular Now

2014-03-20 09:22
What it's about:

Sutter Keely is a popular high school kid who lives his life according to the philosophy of “living entirely in the now”, as is attested to by his lack of interest in his post-high school future and his total callousness towards an increasingly obvious drinking problem. His life changes expectantly, however, when he wakes up on the lawn outside the house of Aimee Finicky – an introverted, “nice” girl in his class whose existence he had never so much as registered before – after a night of drunken misbehaviour.

What we thought:

Picking up where The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Way way Back, Mud and The Kings Of Summer (still unreleased in this country) left off, The Spectacular Now is another in the recent trend of quite excellent coming-of-age dramas hitting our cinemas every few months. And as a huge fan of the genre, I could hardly be happier. While The Spectacular Now doesn't quite reach the heights of Perks or The Way, Way Back it's still a wonderfully heartfelt, poignant addition to the canon that offers its own unique spin on growing up.

The film does, it has to be said, start off on a somewhat worrying note as it looks set to be another terrible teen comedy, starring the star of two of the worst examples of such in recent memory. 21 & Over and, worse still, the truly excruciating Project X went some way towards souring me on Miles Teller for life so it says a lot about his work in The Spectacular Now – and, indeed, about the film in general – that by about halfway through, both he and his character had totally won me over.

The film itself didn't have to wait quite so long to worm its way into my heart, however, as it kicks into high gear the very moment Shailene Woodley first appears on screen, which, fortunately for all of us, happens to be very early in the first act. She already won the hearts of audiences everywhere with her sterling, breakthrough work in Alexander Payne's The Descendants and she is even better here as a pretty, intelligent and seriously good-hearted young teenage girl whose refusal to play “the game” unbelievably – yet sadly all too believably – makes her something of a social outcast. Even if we're unsure of Teller's Sutter Keely at first, Woodley's Aimee Finicky more than sees us through.

As for Sutter though, The Spectacular Now actually makes brilliant use of Teller's past “douchebag” roles as it plays with our expectations by first presenting the character as exactly the kind of smug arsehole that Teller portrayed in previous films, before peeling back and revealing hidden layer upon hidden layer that ultimately culminates in an incredibly complex, sympathetic and finally relatable human being. Without spoiling anything, the more we come to understand Sutter, the more we understand the ultimate points that the film is trying to make about the adolescent mind. It's a brilliant bit of casting for a truly engaging character.

Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bob Odenkirk and no less than two of Scott Pilgrim's girlfriends, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Brie Larson, make up the rest of an excellent main cast, each playing fully-drawn characters, no matter how much or how little screen time they happen to have. They're not exactly the biggest stars but they're the kind of top-grade actors that you really wish you saw more of and they're a perfect accompaniment for the wonderfully rendered but utterly unflashy performances of our two leads.

If the film does have a flaw, it's probably that the story itself – which is based on Tim Tharp's novel of the same name - is at times just a bit too derivative, obvious and predictable for its own good but considering just how great the acting, characterization, naturalistic dialogue and thematic richness are, the ordinariness of the plot itself is but a minor hiccup. It also could probably have used just a bit more humour to punctuate the drama but it's hardly po-faced and again, it's hard to quibble too much when the results are this heartfelt, this intelligent and this engaging.

Spectacular? Maybe not, but it's still pretty damn good.

It's plot may be decidedly unspectacular but everything else about The Spectacular Now makes for a wonderfully poignant, heartfelt and clever coming-of-age dramedy that is sure to please all fans of the genre.
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