The Spectacular Now is an emotionally riveting coming of age story. When I first saw it, my reaction was positive, but somewhat muted. However, this film has stuck with me for the better part of a month now. It is very good.
Shailene Woodley as Aimee Finicky and Miles Teller as Sutter Keely are both terrific, at every turn. Woodley is a touch better, capturing a bit more stillness and a bit more silence which allowed her to generate a bit more emotional impact, but that isn’t entirely Teller’s fault. Partially it is due to the difference in character. Aimee is a quiet, instrospective thinker. Sutter is a boisterous extrovert who intentionally doesn’t think much, as something of a defense mechanism. So it is, then, that I conclude both young actors are terrific. Both are worth the price of admission. Both have talent. Both deserved the award they evidently received at Sundance this year.
The supporting cast, highlighted by Jennifer Jason Leigh (whom I didn’t recognize until the end credits rolled) as Sutter’s mom, is also very good.
For about ¾ of this film, I would have put it in line with the year’s best. The characters are well developed, the actors are convincing and bold, the story is paced well and the character-driven plot moves forward.
Perhaps most importantly, it feels like we are watching a real-life teenage relationship, not a facsimile of one put on screen for entertainment.
And then Director James Ponsoldt and Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber get us to the conclusion of rising action, move us into the climax and the dénouement. All of which is a bit too rushed. They don’t give Sutter and Aimee time to digest the events they have brought upon themselves, and they don’t give the viewer time to really see Sutter’s maturation. We see him spin into full-scale alcoholic nose-dive, but we don’t really see him come out of it. One minute he’s self-destructing and the next he’s healed. It’s a little too clean, too fast.
Aimee and Sutter have a certain ease about their relationship, but it is too easy, almost, and therefore never quite convinces that Sutter feels as strongly about Aimee as she does about him. Right near the end, Sutter is still pining over his ex-girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson). Therein is one reason the denouement doesn’t quite ring true. It demands that we accept Sutter’s emotion for Aimee is more than quiet infatuation and strong self-protection, but I’m not certain they’ve shown us that. They’ve shown that Aimee genuinely loves Sutter, almost to a fault, multiple times, but I’m not as convinced that Sutter reciprocates that level of emotion.
The final flaw is Sutter’s mom. Not that she is a bad character, but that she is underutilized. She is the one who finally cements the lessons for Sutter, as well she should be, but the film never establishes the relationship between Sutter and his mom to make us believe that a single conversation with her can have quite this much impact.
I wish that The Spectacular Now had been about 15-20 minutes longer. Give me three-four more scenes with Sutter and his Mom connecting/arguing/or in some other way emotionally engaging with one another. And/or give me one or two more scenes with Aimee and Sutter (perhaps even including his mom in them) after the two teenagers have gone to meet Sutter’s father (Kyle Chandler). If Ponsoldt couldn’t make his film longer, for whatever reason, then I wish the scenes with Cassidy and her new boyfriend had been eliminated or shortened so that the picture could have spent more time with these other characters.
In the end, though, none of these flaws ruin the film. The Spectacular Now is still very good. Like I said, its cast is terrific and its characters are well developed. It is worth viewing.