I saw the movie “The Spectacular Now” recently – and, while I didn’t love it as much as I loved the book, I certainly enjoyed it. The movie actually made my uncomfortable at times with the realness of it all…and anytime a filmmaker and actors can elicit emotion like that is a job well done. 🙂
If you aren’t familiar with this movie, here’s a synopsis: Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) lives in the now. It’s a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he’s the life of the party, loves his job at a men’s clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he’s never far from his supersized, whisky-fortified Thirst Master cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) hovering over him. She’s different: the “nice girl” who reads science fiction and doesn’t have a boyfriend. While Aimee has dreams of a future, Sutter lives in the impressive delusion of a spectacular now. Yet, somehow, they’re drawn together.
The acting delivered by the two leads is a freakin’ revelation – neither appear stunningly, unrealistically beautiful like most high school students in movies do, and you have no trouble believing that Sutter is a functioning alcoholic with the way he moves and the slightly bloated look of his face…it’s fantastic. Shailene Woodley is AMAZING as Aimee – a plain yet pretty girl whose eyes are so full of love, affection, and adoration every time she looks at Sutter that you absolutely believe the depth of her emotions. I know that look – I’ve given it before, when there is absolute, straight-up LOVE in your eyes, and just looking at the object of your affection makes your face become instantly sweeter. It’s a gorgeous thing. 🙂
The movie is based upon a book by Tim Tharp, and I absolutely love the book – one of my favorite passages from the book is this one: “She’s different from the girls I’m used to dating. She doesn’t get tired of my stories and jokes or expect me to start reading her mind. She doesn’t want me to dress better or put highlights in my hair or serious up. I’m not a lifestyle accessory to her. I’m a necessity. I’m the guy that’s going to crack open her cocoon. She doesn’t need to change me – she needs me to change her. At least until her little butterfly wings get strong enough to fly away.” That girl that’s being described there? That’s ME. I have been that girl, hoping that someone will come along, see something special and shiny and sparkly inside of me, and bust things open, letting all of my magic out. I think I’ve been close a few times, but I’m still waiting on just the right combination of things to happen, to break down the walls, bust open the windows and let the sparkles out. I just know that when it happens it is going to be GREAT. 🙂
Roger Ebert wrote a review of this movie shortly before his passing (it’s not his last review, but pretty close to it) – here’s what he had to say about the film:
Here is a lovely film about two high school seniors who look, speak and feel like real 18-year-old middle-American human beings. Do you have any idea how rare that is? They aren’t crippled by irony. They aren’t speeded up into cartoons. Their sex lives aren’t insulted by scenes that treat them cheaply. The story requires them to make love, but it doesn’t insist we see her tits. Sutter and Aimee are smart, but they make dumb mistakes. They’re more confident on the outside than on the inside. They’re very serious about life, although Sutter, the boy, makes an effort to conceal that.
He lives with his mom. His dad isn’t in the picture. Sutter has a little buzz on most of the time, carrying a monogrammed flask to spike his fast-food sodas. He drives while drinking. One morning he’s sprawled on the lawn of a house he’s never seen before.
That’s the Meet Cute. He’s awakened by Aimee (Shailene Woodley), who says he’d never recognize her from their school. They start talking, and stroll through a wooded area nearby. Bird song. Sun through the leaves. It’s one of those time-outs licensed by youth, where there doesn’t have to be a reason: They’re young, they’re awake, he’s so hung over he goes into one of those fuzzy trances that run on fumes.
This is a conversation that will continue in one way or another for the whole film. Emotionally it begins at zero and arrives at 60, with some negative numbers along the way, but Sutter wouldn’t know that; he wants her to help with his geometry homework. Geometry, the most entertaining branch of math, and the most advanced one I ever mastered. Would you believe I was online the other day, looking for the sophomore geometry textbook I had at Urbana High? I had this goofy notion to get a protractor, a mechanical pencil and a plastic triangle working through some proofs. More fun than a crossword puzzle.
Sutter isn’t looking for a girlfriend. Aimee has never had a boyfriend. Sutter got really drunk after splitting up with Cassidy (Brie Larson). She’s not one of your bitch queens you so often see as the Other Woman in teenager movies. Can she tell there’s no future with Sutter as long as he keeps on drinking like this? His teacher (Andre Royo) has the same thoughts. Sutter is screwing up just when he should be filling out an application for college. Sutter and the teacher, who can’t be 10 years older than Sutter, have a serious sit-down after class. The teacher asks Sutter how he expects to get what he deserves out of life. “Have you?” Sutter asks him.
The movie’s first hour continues on a, I dunno, realistic or naturalistic tone. It makes no point of it. It just looks at these two. They get to enjoy hanging out, and although Sutter says he has no intention of getting serious with Aimee, damned if he doesn’t ask her to the Prom. It’s not even that they fall in love; they just intensely enjoy one another’s company.
When they make love the scene is handled perfectly by the director, James Ponsoldt. Neither is a virgin, neither is experienced. They perform the task seriously and with care, Aimee hands Sutter a condom and he puts in on and enters her carefully and they look solemnly into each other’s eyes. None of that wild thrashing about that embarrasses older actors, who doth protest too much.
They reach that intent state where they want to help each other. She wants her mother to give her more freedom. He says he lied when he told her his dad was a pilot. Actually, his dad walked out. His older sister has the phone number, now revealed to him. Sutter makes her promise to stand up to her mom. Aimee makes him promise to get the number from his sister and call it.
Now comes the place the movie was building toward all of his time. Not a “climax,” nothing really exciting, only an experience that helps explain Sutter’s life up until now, and points toward his future. He takes her along to meet his dad (Kyle Chandler). A lot of the meaning here is in long shots. Sutter says the hell with it. Insults Aimee.
What an affecting film this is. It respects its characters and doesn’t use them for its own shabby purposes. How deeply we care about them. Miles Tellerand Shailene Woodley are so there. Being young is a solemn business when you really care about someone. Teller has a touch of John Cusack in his “Say Anything” period. Woodley is beautiful in a real person sort if way, studying him with concern, and then that warm smile. We have gone through senior year with these two. We have known them. We have been them.
This movie has been a huge hit with critics (Mr. Ebert gave it 4 **** , in fact), and I do hope that if you spot it at a theatre near you, that you will go in and see it. 🙂 I don’t know if it is the most AMAZING movie that’s been made recently, but it is certainly one that will make you think. And sometimes that’s a good thing – put your own life and issues and stuff aside, and become absorbed in somebody else’s story….good stuff, eh? 🙂