Film Review: The Spectacular Now

I had been hearing a lot of rumblings about The Spectacular Now from across the sea for a while and – let’s be honest, now – seen a lot of gif sets on Tumblr. These forces combined had sparked an interest (it looked like something different, plus Kyle Chandler was in it!) and I promptly ordered it as a Christmas present to myself (yes, more of those) when it was released on DVD at the start of the year.

I think I can start by congratulating myself on an excellent purchase, as I absolutely loved The Spectacular Now (hereafter to be known as TSN). I am a big fan of things where not much happens. This seems odd to some people, but books or movies where things move slowly and nothing massive occurs but you learn a lot and you feel a lot anyway are like catnip to me (examples of this ‘genre’ include The Makioka Sisters, a gorgeous novel by Tanizaki Jun’ichirō and Somewhere by Sophia Coppola).

ANYWAY. This not-seemingly-about-much-but-sort-of-about-everything plot is also the case with TSN. It follows Sutter Keely (an excellent Miles Teller), a high school senior ambling his way through his final months of school and the summer before his peers start college. He loses his girlfriend, Cassidy, who finds his ‘life in the now’ philosophy and reliance on alcohol frustrating, but soon finds new romance with quiet Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). Sutter is the guy that everyone knows, who’s at every party. The sort of easy going, fly by the seat of his pants, friend to all that everyone likes, but nobody expects to change or do anything much with his life.

Sutter has a complicated home life, with a busy and sometimes distant single mother, grown up and married sister and totally absent father. Sutter clings to the idea that his father will come back one day and resents his mother for – in his eyes – pushing him away. His only interest is in having a good time and living in the present and consequently resists any urges to grow up and look to the future. His relationship with Aimee starts as a distraction from missing his ex, but slowly starts to grow into something more meaningful. Sutter’s easy going attitude to life in general helps to embolden Aimee – for the better and for the worse – and she blooms under his seize the day philosophy, standing up to parental pressures and getting her way over college. Sutter can’t seem to follow his own advice however, and keeps stalling over asking his mother for information on his father. However, Aimee’s openness regarding her own father and unwavering trust in Sutter encourages his to track his father down, after his sister passes on his address. He and Aimee embark on a trip to see his father, which proves to have disastrous consequences.

The Spectacular Now stood out among ‘coming of age’ movies for me as looking at teenagers with an unvarnished view. These kids were individuals; they were complex, they were smart, they were stupid, they made good choices, bad choices and most of the time didn’t know what the hell they were doing. That’s what life is like when you’re young. You don’t always make the right choices and you resist the urge to take others’ advice because you’re sure you know best. I was convinced when Aimee was introduced that this was the girl who was going to try and change Sutter; to be a good influence and lead him down a better path. But that wasn’t what happened at all; Aimee (beautifully played by Woodley) was just…herself. Introducing Sutter to her favourite science fiction novels and manga series’, unselfconsciously flirting with him and cheering him on when he goes to meet his Dad. Aimee wasn’t a saviour, she was simply someone who liked and accepted Sutter the way he was and while some might argue that he needed someone to help him focus, Aimee’s gentleness and trust in Sutter undoubtedly did him just as much good.

Miles Teller’s performance at Sutter was extraordinary. We watch Sutter getting drunk in the middle of the day – repeatedly. We watch him failing at school; we watch him flirt with Aimee to get his ex’s attention. We see Sutter make bad choice after bad choice and turn down an unwise path and yet – you totally root for him and desperately want to see things turn around and I swear this is down to Teller’s performance. His Sutter is engaging, funny, kind-of-jerky-but-gets-away-with-it and utterly, utterly charming. Watching Sutter’s reaction to his father and realising how alike they are (and how much that frightens rather than pleases him) was marvellously acted and subtly and carefully done. Teller did a great job of balancing Sutter’s genuine belief that life should be lived in the ‘spectacular now’ and his fear that he will disappoint everyone and end up just like his father.

I found TSN ultimately very optimistic and moving and I feel like it’s a film I can return back to and gain a little bit more from each time. Highly recommended.

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