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Film Review: Teens Falling in Love in “The Spectacular Now”

Photo: 21 Laps Entertainment

James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now was considered one of the best films to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Acting. It’s essentially a coming-of-age story, but with much darker elements than your average teen movie.

It primarily focuses on a high school kid named Sutter Keely, played by Miles Teller, who just wants to live in the moment and not have to think about the future. He’s kind of charming in a goofy way, but he’s mostly obnoxious and really, really messed up.

A lot of high school movies portray teen drinking, but The Spectacular Now shows some of the dangers and real-life consequences that can happen because of that lifestyle. By all accounts, Sutter is an alcoholic and this movie frequently shows him driving drunk. On one such occasion, he ends up blacking out and waking up on someone’s front yard. That someone turns out to be Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), a down-to-earth, somewhat nerdy girl from school who reads manga and wants to work for NASA someday. From that moment on, Sutter and Aimee strike up a tentative friendship, which eventually blossoms into love and romance.

The movie is anchored by some pretty solid performances. Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights, Zero Dark Thirty) shows up for about ten minutes, but it’s one of the best, most memorable moments from the movie. I wasn’t as impressed by Miles Teller as I was with Shailene Woodley, who I would argue is a little under-served in The Spectacular Now. The marketing leads you to believe that equal weight is given to both Teller and Woodley’s characters, but that’s not entirely the case. Although she’s a much more realistically drawn character, Aimee functions similarly to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, in that she helps propel the male protagonist forward and achieve a new perspective on life. While we’re given brief glimpses into Aimee’s life, The Spectacular Now is very much Sutter’s story.

The Spectacular Now does give a fairly intimate portrayal of an opposites-attract teen romance, and it’s easy to see why Sutter and Aimee would fall for each other. At the same time, while it feels organic, their relationship becomes difficult to root for as the movie progresses, especially after one pivotal scene towards the end. All in all, The Spectacular Now‘s selling point – aside from the terrific acting and its effective use of various tracking shots – is the natural, realistic way it portrays teen relationships and the issues that teens are often faced with.

Watch it now on Amazon Instant Video.

four stars

  • Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley
  • Directed by: James Ponsold
  • Running Time: 95 minutes
  • Genre: Drama, Romance