Drinking and partying hard every weekend when you’re in high school is considered “bad”? Somewhere, I’m calling B.S.!
Sutter (Miles Teller), no matter how many people want to deny it, is the perfect example of a high school senior. He does not know what he wants to do with the rest of his life, and he doesn’t actually care much at all neither. He’s just happy to live in the moment, be with his girlfriend (Brie Larson), drink a hefty amount of whatever he can find, and be ultra-popular among adults and fellow kids. However, all of the partying and good times do eventually catch up with Sutter, and not only does he lose his girlfriend, but begins to see his grades fail way beyond his reach. But after a heavy night of binge-drinking with some of the best in town, Sutter is suddenly awaken (literally and mentally) by Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a quiet, shy, and low-key girl that reads sci-fi and Manga novels. This makes her the ultimate nerd and the complete opposite of Sutter’s high-strung, loud-mouthed ways, but somehow, they hit it off quite well and realize that there’s more to each other than they could have possibly ever knew was there in the first place. Especially Sutter, who finds something within him awoken with this new relationship.
With this summer’s The Way, Way Back, The Kings of Summer, and now this; it seems as if teens have an awful lot to learn from this year. Almost each of these flicks concern teens coming-of-age with whatever responsibilities they have to deal with, while also learning a thing or two in the process. However, what’s separated them all is the tone and the material involved. Way, Way Back is a lot more comedic, with the occasional moment of heartfelt drama; Kings of Summer, despite being my least favorite out of the three, was more jokey and didn’t take its premise very seriously, until it soon realized that there needed to be a point behind the whole product, and shoved it in there for a good measure; and now we have The Spectacular Now, the type of film that takes its subject seriously, but never over-does it. Not saying that those other ones do, but there’s just something about this movie that really clicked with me, and made it my favorite coming-of-age drama from the whole summer.
There’s going to be plenty more where this came from, but it’s still nice to know that they can be done, and be done well. John Hughes is smiling somewhere. I can tell.
Director James Ponsoldt isn’t a name you’ll know right away from hearing it uttered, but definitely should, especially by the end of this review. Last year, with Smashed, Ponsoldt tackled the rough subject of alcoholism in its grittiest way yet. It offered us a solution to all of the problems, but still showed them off in a very far, very unreachable distance, that it made the whole movie seem rather depressing, yet very true and realistic as well. As someone who has seen alcoholism around him very much in his life, it touched me and had me remember all of the times I had to hold somebody’s head over a trash-can/toilet, just because they were too busy out getting plastered all night. But this isn’t a review about that movie, it’s one about this movie, The Spectacular Now, but I can assure that the themes and issues that the flicks tackle, make them very similar, but very different in the ways they go about talking, or mentioning it.
For instance, the movie never utters the word “alcoholic”. Not even Sutter himself, who seems like he knows how much he drinks, how much he loves to drink, and why he does so, but yet, never comes to admit to himself that he has a problem and needs help. And to be brutally honest, it doesn’t seem like he needs all that much help with that aspect of his character, as much as he does with everything else in his life. What Ponsoldt does well with this character and this flick is that he tackles all of the problems that most teenagers face when they are about to get ready and leave for college; but never dramatizes them in a way that we’ve seen done a million times before, in lesser, coming-of-age flicks. Sutter has a problem with drinking, yes, but he also has an even bigger problem with living for the future and taking the rest of his life into hand. He knows that he needs to be the life of the party for now, because that’s all that matters, but is it going to matter 10 years down the road, except for maybe when he shows up at the reunion, still drunk off of his ass? Not at all, but Sutter doesn’t want to hear that, and honestly, he’s like every other teen out there I’ve ever met, including myself.
No young person, female or male, wants to admit that they don’t have everything planned-out and ready-to-go. Every young person likes to think that they’re out on top and nobody can take them off of their high-horse; but that’s when reality comes in, slaps you in the face, and has you wake up, realizing that you have the rest of your life to live, and the countdown starts NOW. That’s where this movie really hit me, because for the first hour or so, it’s somewhat fun, comedic, light, and playful with its material, its characters, and what it’s ultimately going to set-up, but once the reality of the situation of all of our lives, including Sutter’s, sets in; then, the movie becomes very dark, very dramatic, and very sad, almost in a way that shocked me by how far Ponsoldt decided to go.
It’s a teen-drama in the sense that kids do party, kids do drink, kids do have sex, and kids do go to school and plan for college, but it’s also a teen-drama in the sense that it’s not like a movie; and more like a life-lesson on what could happen to anyone, at any moment. However, it’s far from being that hokey or ham-fisted as most of those “message movies” are. This one, instead, really touches on the ideas and themes that are present in all young teen’s lives, allows it to tell itself, and never holds our hand or tells us directly what’s happening. It’s almost like we’re watching real life happen in front of our eyes, with all of the good and bad decisions made along the way. For that, I have to give this flick a super, duper high-five! Not just because it’s smarter than your average, run-of-the-mill teenage-drama (which it totally is), but because it touches on an idea that most of us are afraid to admit is there, and sometimes prevails: Failure. Yep, that dreaded “F word” has a funny way of showing its own face around every once and awhile, and this movie does not shy away from that fact either.
But believe it or not (because you sure as hell wouldn’t have been able to tell from my constant bickering), this is a movie about two teens getting acquainted, finding out who the other person really is, falling in love, and doing all of that other, cutesy-bootsie stuff that most people who fall in love do. On that note, it serves its job, even if I did feel like the ball does get dropped a bit at the end once a middle-twist shows up, and totally changes the movie’s view-point around. Can’t say much as to what it is, or how it happens, but trust me, when it does occur, you’ll feel the movie’s weight drag right from underneath you, and pull you down as it continues to develop more and more. That’s a good thing, by the way.
Like I said though: The romance at the center of this flick. Despite this seeming like another one of those “popular guy falls in love with nerd, nerd finds out her inner-beauty, popular guy realizes he’s been a jerk his whole life and conforms at the end”-stories, it totally is not. Ponsoldt touches this aspect of the story with as much sensitivity as a real-life, blossoming-relationship would be. There’s the insecurities; the awkward conversations; the initial action of sex; and the first meeting of the family-members. However, it’s all played with about as much sincerity and honesty as most of your relationships may have been, and it touched the inner-romantic side of me, while also made me realize all of the good times, as well as the bad ones, that I spent with a few of my honeys during high school. Quite a lot I had, just don’t ask them if they did go out with me or not.
What really makes this relationship between these two work so well and believably, is that Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are both very charming when they’re together, and even when they aren’t. More in the case of Teller, but I’ll get to him in just a few bit, as for right now, we have Woodley to discuss here, who is not only the most adorable, sweetest female to grace the screen this whole year so far, but really out-does the Oscar-worthy performance she gave in The Descendants. Not only is she less brass and sassy as she was in that flick, but she also has more of a heart to her here, one that feels like it deserves love, even if it is from this dude who’s just trying to figure out what he, as well as life’s, all about. She’s a nerd in the sense that she doesn’t talk to many people and reads weird stuff that us cool kids wouldn’t dare get caught skimming-through in the cafeteria, but she doesn’t wear glasses, she rarely differs in her personality from the beginning to the end, and she isn’t in need of a major makeover that drastically changes her appearance, making her sexier and more desirable than ever before. None of that, at all. Instead, we just have Woodley here to give us a beautiful look at a young, small-town gal who wants to do nice things for the people around her, and deserves all of the love in the world, regardless of who it comes from. Wonderful performance from the gal, and I hope she bounces back from being bounced out of The Amazing Spider-Man sequel.
That Marc Webb sure is a heartless bastard.
Although, the one performance here that this movie depends on the most is Miles Teller’s as Sutter Keeley, aka, the guy everyone wants to be, but just never amounts to actually being in high school. Sutter has it all and knows that he does, yet, he doesn’t quite take advantage of it while he still can, because he’s constantly drunk and acting like an ass. Nothing wrong with that, especially when you’re young, but like what many people tell him throughout this flick: You have to get serious every once and awhile, and stop always being a jokester. Whenever Teller is being funny and/or charming, he’s perfect at it, and feels like a younger-version of Vince Vaughn (without saying “baby” at the end of every sentence).
He knows how to work the humor and the fun of this character, but also knows how to get to the deeper feelings as well, and never loses sight of what’s really going on behind this guy’s wild times, as sad as they may be to go face-to-face with. With that, Teller is amazing and I really cannot wait to see where his career goes from here, as it seems like the guy knows how to be lovable and funny, but also have us care for him too, despite his character not being all that sympathetic or smart. Sutter does partake in some questionable actions, as well as very lazy ones, you still feel for him and understand where he’s coming from; all because he, like you, were at one time or still are, a teenager and coming to grips with what the real world out there is like. Some of it’s pretty, some of it ain’t. But that’s the world for ya, and that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
However, it’s also the rest of the ensemble cast that perfectly rounds out this movie, and makes it even more brutal and realistic in its scope and vision. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a few nice scenes as the older sister of Sutter, a girl who was probably just like him at one point, but has finally escaped that world and married into the money world; Brie Larson plays Sutter’s ex-girlfriend, which would be an easy role for any actress to work with just by being bitchy and annoying, but Larson isn’t and gives this character an sympathetic-route that I didn’t expect to feel for her at all; Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Sutter’s mommy, a damaged woman who obviously loves him for what he is, but is a bit too broken-down to fully merge herself into his life and take charge; and last, but sure as hell not least, Kyle Chandler has a perfect 10-15 minutes of screen-time as Sutter’s daddy, a guy who’s just as messed-up as him, if not worse, and it totally hits a soft spot with him, as well as you. Overall, perfect cast that helps hit you with a harder blow, had it been handled by any lesser-actors.
Consensus: The obvious trappings of a coming-of-age, dramedy are definitely present in The Spectacular Now, but are rarely used because it’s a lot smarter with its hard-hitting and brutal, yet realistic view of what it’s like to be a teenager, see what’s next to come, and not want to let go of the past, as much as it may pain one to do so.
8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!