Finally, a teenage movie with living, breathing, real teenagers instead of cardboard cutouts made to drink, party, screw, argue and degrade. We’ve all been in Sutter’s or Aimee’s shoes at one point or another, in some form or another, and to see them go through senior year with no real plan for the future or the present is a remarkable achievement by The Spectacular Now’s writers, director and cast.
These are two youngsters trapped in very real situations, restricted by parents and left stranded in a world that neither really knows how to handle. So they do their best to fool others into thinking they’ve got everything under control.
Sutter (Miles Teller) opens the movie as a party animal. The life of the party, he claims to be. Together with his girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), he storms through houses and pools as easily as he chugs down alcohol. A slight misunderstanding costs him his relationship, and now he’s alone, with no one to turn to except his best friend, who, with every developing scene, seems to drift further and further away from him. His philosophy on life is to live in the now. In doing so, he tricks people into believing that his “now” is blissful and serene.
Aimee (Shailene Woodley) is a sweet girl, bubbling with life and laughter. She meets Sutter on a lawn one morning. He’s hungover and in a daze, but he likes her already — maybe as a rebound — and offers to help her on her paper route. They get to talking. Eventually they start dating. Sutter’s friend thinks he’s incapable of liking Aimee sincerely; Sutter thinks his friend should mind his own business. This is great stuff, because we too are questioning Sutter’s motives. The first 45 minutes or so of the movie portray Sutter as a sneaky worm; he’s just broken up with the perfect girl, and now he seems to be taking this innocent angel for a ride. She likes him wholeheartedly. Him we’re not so sure about.
Gradually they grow closer, and Sutter comes off as a naughty boy who’s just been put in his place by genuine, unaffected, unconditional love. The sex scene they share is one of immense beauty. Director James Ponsoldt cleverly captures the moment of the moment, not the gratuity of it. Sutter has obviously had a fair share and a half of sex — we see some of it in early scenes — but Aimee is a virgin (she’s never had a boyfriend). Sutter is smart to treat Aimee with respect, even though he might be wanting the sex for sex’s sake. But after the fade to black, he springs a surprise by still lying in bed with her, willing to share secrets and personal stories. In most other teen movies, the guy is either asleep and snoring, for a good laugh, or either one of the sexual partners has left without a word. Here, the sex means something to Sutter and Aimee. As it should.
The screenplay, penned by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, is tight enough to keep our alliances and sympathies with this couple yet loose and roomy enough to give both Sutter and Aimee space to grow. Yes, much of the story is told from Sutter’s point of view — there’s a great climax of sorts that sees him visiting his estranged father only to find out dark and horrible truths about why his parents split up all those years ago — but Aimee too is shaped into a fully functional, three-dimensional character. Her jovial demeanour is her way of dealing with her crude brother, her stubborn mother and deceased father. When something happens to her involving Sutter, his car and the highway (I will not say what), the fact that she welcomes Sutter back into her life without question or resentment shows us what kind of sweetheart she is. It brought a tear to my eye.
Clearly, Sutter doesn’t deserve her. He knows this. Even she might know this. But they’re all each other has, and they know this too. The strongest part about The Spectacular Now is how easily we accept these people as real people. There is no question. It’s such a breath of fresh air to be able to relate to teenagers who aren’t obsessed with endless parties and getting drunk off their faces. Sure, parties are prominent in this movie, so is the alcohol, but they serve a solid purpose. Without them, Sutter and Aimee would never have met.
Best Moment | I can’t pinpoint a Best Moment. It’s all very good. Very believable. Can’t ask for anything more.
Worst Moment | Aimee’s brother Shane flipping Sutter the bird upon their first meeting. Inappropriate much?