The Spectacular Now (2013) Directed by James Ponsoldt. Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Kyle Chandler. IMDB says: “A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.”"
I try to not let expectations go to my head. It does get kind of hard though when a movie has such a positive response. If so many people have such a high opinion they can’t be off base, right? With all that in mind I went into The Spectacular Now expecting a teen coming of age story that was more than a cut above the rest. Something that was touted to be in the league of last year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and even more than that, a movie reminiscent of John Hughes’ work. Sadly, as much as I wanted to get that same feeling, I didn’t come close.
Sutter Keely (Teller) is an asshole teenager. He’s a bit selfish, cocky, and obnoxious but it’s not that far off from your standard teen. He has some issues including a drinking problem and the abandonment of his father, but the air he puts off is of a good time guy. After being dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larsen), he meets a long time schoolmate Aimee Finecky (Woodley) who’s not really in the in-crowd. She’s not totally weird, but she’s to herself and not really into false pretenses. Aimee becomes quite taken with him and Sutter seems interested (in the very least as a rebound to make Cassidy jealous).
Their troubled pasts have impacted how they’re living their lives. Sutter can’t possibly think of the future, opting to focus on living in the moment. Aimee dreams of moving out of their small town to move to Philadelphia for college. Only, Sutter doesn’t really get much out of living in the moment and Aimee doesn’t have the nerve to leave her family. Their relationship progresses despite the viewer knowing this isn’t going to work. It just seemed like there was no way for Aimee to get anything but heartbreak out of this experience, as Sutter comes off as half as devoted to her. It tinged the whole movie in a negative light to me, as even moments of joy I felt were tainted by not knowing Sutter’s real motives with Aimee. He seems genuinely into her in one scene, and in the next dying to get Cassidy back. It took me out of the relationship.
Not knowing how to perceive their romance was half the problem here. There’s a lot going on as far as teenage angst goes but it’s only partly developed. Sutter has a drinking problem that rubs off on Aimee, but besides a dangerous brush this is never properly discussed. His deadbeat dad issues aren’t exactly fresh territory and I didn’t really need that in the story, despite a welcome performance by Kyle Chandler. These fragmented parts of Sutter’s characters took away from what really needed to be focused on–their romance. Sure, Shailene Woodley is fantastic here, but you really don’t get a fleshed out picture of who Aimee is. It’s a shame because I found her more interesting than Sutter, but she never gets her own screen time.
Overall, this isn’t a bad film. There’s good stuff in there and a decent story under some muck. I just don’t get what people are falling in love with. It’s not that groundbreaking as far as a movie about teens go. It’s handled with more sensitivity at times, but there’s nothing that really stood out. The two leads give good performances, but I never understood, nonetheless cared about their connection.