Friday, January 24, 2014

The Spectacular Now Movie Review

James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now is a refreshing depiction of teenage life, friendship, romantic relationships, and angst. Its main character, Sutter (Miles Teller), is the school’s life of the party. He’s fun and funny, popular among the ‘right’ people, and has an on again-off again beautiful girlfriend, who looks like the all-American Homecoming Queen. Like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this is as close to the spirit of John Hughes as we’ve seen, in the sense of a writer who gets the voice and troubles of the American teenager.

Tim Tharp’s novel served as the source material for the adaptation by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who allow Sutter’s personality and problems to reveal themselves naturally. Ponsoldt doesn’t slam the points home. That’s because Sutter is a character, not a type. He doesn’t fit the mold of any particular high school type we normally see in movies. He’s a popular partier, but the “less popular” kids think he’s a jerk rather than envy him. He’s not a jock, he’s not a good student, and there are whispers and hints that he’s actually kind of a joke – a perpetually unserious kid who’s likely to become a grown up Peter Pan.

After meeting Aimee (Shailene Woodley), he strikes a very natural friendship that develops organically into something more. The screenplay doesn’t force them into romance. There’s not a meet-cute, no love at first sight, and no critical misunderstanding and dramatic reversal. Sutter has big doubts. His friends know he has the potential to hurt a nice girl like Aimee, but he counts on her ending it after a short time. He doesn’t count on really begin attracted to a genuinely kind and loving person who puts others first.

Slowly, over the course of the film we start to recognize that the charming, can win anything with a smile personality Sutter has is becoming eclipsed by his budding alcoholism. What first looks like normal teenage drinking soon turns out to be a serious problem. Casting must have been the key to the success of this movie. Without down-to-earth winning and talented actors who don’t have who don’t have traditional movie star looks, Ponsoldt might have ended up with something much more typical. Woodley and Teller have a natural chemistry and they feel like real people rather than actors playing out a story.

Tharp’s novel must be very thoughtful and well-developed. It just has this feel that it’s based on a truly interesting story. Sutter’s father has been out fot he picture since his childhood. His mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) won’t allow him to know where his father is. When he procures his phone number from his older sister – a woman who knows as well as their mother what Sutter will find, he goes to spend a day with the man who abandoned his family, played by Kyle Chandler. What Sutter finds is a man who never grew up and, although it’s a little too simplistic in terms of getting the Sutter character to his destination, could be the image of Sutter in twenty years if he continues down the same path of only living for the moment.

This is a story that understands that kids have problems and personalities and decisions to make that could have tremendous impact on their lives. It’s not strictly about partying and meeting the right girl. This is a movie that allows its teenage characters to be people. To many adults, the problems of an eighteen-year old might not seem like much, but when they’re living those moments, they feel like they have all the weight of the world on them.

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