Director: James Ponsoldt
Studio: 21 Laps Entertainment
Stars: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson
The Spectacular Now is moody and melancholy, a not-so-happy love story between two unusual, mismatched teens—unusual for Hollywood movies, anyway. Based on a Tim Tharp novel adapted by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer) and directed by James Ponsoldt (Smashed), the film centers on high school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a popular, quick-witted, overconfident party animal with failing grades and a drinking problem that has already cost him a girlfriend (Brie Larson) and has him crashing cars and passing out on people's front lawns.
It's as if he—and the audience—can see his own bleak future. If he survives at all, he may well wind up an underachieving drunk stuck in a going-nowhere job. He now and then stops, drops his party guy persona and stows away his flask full of whisky to take up with smart, reticent, college-bound, virginal Aimee Finicky (that’s her name, seriously) played by Shailene Woodley (The Descendants). First she’s his tutor, then they’re sharing common interests, then they’re inseparable—even though he thinks she’s not up to the standard of his ex—and finally, despite warnings from their friends, they’re in the throes of a full-on, if highly unlikely, love affair.
The hero’s inner sadness and problems hover over the film and his relationship with the vulnerable Aimee gets presented with a raw, unexpected honesty that is touchingly acted, even heartbreakingly so at times, by both performers. In his early 20s, Teller (so good with Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole) isn’t always convincing as a high school senior, let alone the center of attention and a magnet for beautiful girls, but he's sharp and winning and he pulls it off. Woodley is so likable and accessible, an open book, and her character so outclasses poor, selfish, down-bound Sutter that you may find yourself wanting to yell “Run!” every time she makes cow eyes at him. The Spectacular Now also features excellent performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the hero’s rich, beautiful sister and Kyle Chandler as their broken father.
Packed with promising talent in front of and behind the camera, it’s worth your time even if, at 100 minutes, it feels much longer.