Review by Pete Mason
“The Spectacular Now,” a film by James Ponsoldt, is an incredible story of a cocky high school senior, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) who has reached what he considers his peak and has no interest in moving beyond this point while the rest of his peers do. His girlfriend breaks up with him. He drinks, a lot. He’s popular, but reality sinks in – he’s a joke and not who he thought he was. Amid this slowly building late-teens identity crisis is a chance meeting with Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), a cute, charismatic girl with a similar home life (mom is emotionally absent, dad is out of the picture) but more ambition and hope for the future. Sutter takes to her and they begin a courtship that is more rebound for him than first love for Aimee.
Teller has a Robert Downey Jr. 1980’s likeability with a Bruno Kirby attitude in his acting. He makes Sutter’s hard drinking mesh with a flippant attitude towards long-term interests, living just for the now, in the moment. Woodley made waves in “The Descendants” with George Clooney and has a rising star akin to Jennifer Lawrence over the past few years. Jennifer Jason Leigh shines in a limited role as Sutter’s older, well-off sister, while Bob Odenkirk (“Breaking Bad”) plays his men’s clothing store boss and one of three father figures in his life, none of whom he treats as such.
Sutter limps through life, gets D’s or worse in school and doesn’t care much about his future. His avoiding of growth and adulthood are held back by the broken family life and alcohol abuse. He spends much of the film writing and revising a college essay for an undetermined school, all the while addressing his attachment issues that are spawned from having no father for much of his life. When he seeks out his dad, Tommy, played by Kyle Chandler (best known as Coach Taylor from “Friday Night Lights”) here in a short but sweet role, he is much like him – a live-in-the-NOW kind of guy who drinks a lot because he enjoys it, while still not living up to any standards of being a good human being. He’s not a bad person, he’s just a bad father, a mirror into Sutter’s future that tears into him when he realizes that his mother saying “You’re just like your father” wasn’t just a passing phrase, but the truth. He has thrown away his future before it even began.
More drinking and drama ensue as the school year ends, even at prom and graduation, harkening back to the ’90s teen dramedy “She’s the One,” but with full indie cred and a script (penned by “500 Days of Summer” writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) that doesn’t follow a formula. Daddy issues rule the day in a way Oliver Stone would be proud. Filmgoers will wonder if Sutter is leading Aimee on in a tragic manner or if he is really falling for her? While he takes the path of least resistance in life, avoiding adulthood and not bothering to apply to college because “why bother?,” these Georgia high school seniors form a relationship that has potential, but only if Sutter makes the extra effort. The romance and chemistry between Aimee and Sutter is immediate and lasting, finding each other as she sets her sights on college and he tries to accept things in life as they are and doesn’t mature to the reality of the next step in life, waiting right in front of him.
“The Spectacular Now” is currently playing at Spectrum 8 in Albany and Hudson Movieplex three times daily, but probably not for long. Check this film out while you can. The movie is rated R for teen alcohol use, language and some sexuality.