I’ve been looking forward to The Spectacular Now all summer. I’ve written posts about it, read up on it, watched Shailene Woodley talk about it on The View…it has been my light at the end of the summer movie tunnel. And this was for a couple reasons.
Firstly, I love Shailene Woodley. She’s charming in her public appearances and she was phenomenal in The Descendants. Secondly, Woodley herself called it a kind of John Hughes movie, and the trailer seconded that idea. For those of you who are not familiar with John Hughes, he is responsible for some of the greatest teen movies of all time–Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful, Sixteen Candles. He’s basically the man. And in some way or another, all of his movies are an ode to being young.
The Spectacular Now is not an ode to being young. Although the trailer might mislead you, this is not a movie about living in the moment when you’re eighteen and how it’s OK to put off growing up until tomorrow. It’s basically the opposite.
Sutter (Miles Teller) is the life of every party but also a perpetual screwup and joke. As a senior in high school, he is clearly an alcoholic, and not in the usual teenaged way. He spikes Big Gulps while he’s at work. He can’t get through a single day without having a drunk. And that automatically makes this film darker than anything John Hughes ever put on the screen. Sutter is no Ferris Bueller, although maybe the trailer wants you to think he is. This kid doesn’t just need to “grow up.” He needs serious help.
Aimee (Woodley) is a quiet, thoughtful nobody, making her the perfect opposite to Sutter’s somebody. She finds him passed out on somebody’s lawn after another night of him drinking and driving, and the two become friends and then something more. But Aimee isn’t just quiet. She’s co-dependent. She needs to be needed and she takes the blame for things that couldn’t possibly be her fault–in one horrific scene, as Sutter pushes her away emotionally and out of his car physically, she apologizes over and over for whatever she has done.
This is a movie about dysfunction. Which doesn’t make it bad. It’s just certainly not what I thought it was going to be.
The Spectacular Now is shot beautifully with amazingly long takes that show just how talented these two young actors are. Neither of them are made up–they look like real teenagers besides just acting like them. All of the characters are complex and real–no one is a caricature, not even Sutter’s ex-girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), who could have easily slid over into bitch territory. Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Jason Leigh steal scenes as Sutter’s parents.
I guess my biggest problem with this movie is that it wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to be. It didn’t gloss over Sutter’s alcoholism in the slightest, but it also didn’t confront it. Aimee, too, also needed to learn a thing or two about standing up for herself, but that never came either. The last fifteen minutes are oddly unsatisfying, although the final scene is brilliant. The Spectacular Now is a movie that couldn’t decide between dark and gritty and light and nostalgic, and its lack of focus is why it’s just good instead of phenomenal.