One of the complaints I keep hearing about concerning modern movies is that “there are no new ideas!”
Valid point, but I don’t think we as story consumers always need original ideas.
What we need is a story told well. Now, you can do ORIGINAL ways to tell a story, but the inherit plot of the film doesn’t need to be original.
The Spectacular Now is a great example of that. It’s a story that feels familiar (teenage love and growing up), but the delivery of it is done so well. The way they’ve worked on the characters is actually original compared to other films in this genre.
We start the film off with Sutter Keely (played by Miles Teller). Sutter is the guy in high school who can charm his way out of anything. He feels invincible, and thinks he’s got everything he needs: A job, good friends, and the perfect girlfriend, Cassidy (played by Brie Larson). Life is great for Sutter until the day he got dumped by Cassidy. Feeling lost, but not willing to let the party stop, he goes on a drinking binge and loses himself in the fun. Cut to Sutter passed out on a random lawn being awaken by a girl. He’s not sure how he got there, but he soon realizes that the girl who woke him up is a fellow classmate named Aimee Finecky (played by Shailene Woodley). From this encounter starts the very complicated, but very real romance that Sutter and Aimee will have.
The film hinges on the wonderful character work of screenwriters Scott Neustader & Michael H. Weber. The duo previously wrote the hit (500) Days of Summer, and while I do like that film, I honestly felt that The Spectacular Now is a far better piece of writing than (500) Days of Summer. (500) Days of Summer sometimes felt it was trying to hard too be clever in the writing, with the timeline jumps and on the nose symbolism. The Spectacular Now just feels more honest. This film focuses on just the emotions of the characters, and letting us get to know them.
On the surface, Sutter is almost like a grounded Ferris Bueller, but his complicated relationship of with his mother (wonderfully played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) really adds realistic nuances to the character. One of the reasons he’s fighting with his mother is that he wants to know more about his father, information which she is withholding from him. His struggles with her about this subject really seem to drive Sutter’s destructive tendencies. Miles Teller is just sensational as Sutter. It’s a hard role on paper. Sutter has to be charming and very likable, but also reckless and a drunk. Teller balances all that out and plays Sutter so perfectly. It’s a real star making part and I can’t wait for other people to use him because Teller has a such a unique presence in this film.
While I’m impressed with the character of Sutter, I feel the truly unique character is Aimee. What I love most about Aimee is that she feels like someone I’ve meet before. She’s not really a wallflower, but she’s certainly doesn’t possess the magnetic charm of Sutter or even Cassidy, but Aimee is fully formed. She’s unsure of herself both in personality and in her looks, but she isn’t socially awkward or an outcast. She likes to keep to herself but she’s opened to new experiences. This is the first thing I’ve seen Shailene Woodley in and she is fantastic. Woodley somehow inhabits this girl that feels natural and real. It’s amazing subtle work, and you can’t help but fall for Aimee thanks to the wonderful and engaging performance that Woodley gives.
Seeing these two interact is a real joy for this film. You can see how well they each complement each other, and how one makes the other one better. The chemistry between Woodley and Teller is excellent, and really convinces you of the romance.
The rest of the cast and characters are great. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is remarkable as Sutter’s older sister, Brie Larson is terrific playing Sutter’s ex Cassidy (and thankfully she is written to be a fully realized character too). Bob Odenkirk makes a short but surprising appearance as Sutter’s boss, and Kyle Chandler makes a strong turn as Sutter’s father.
The direction by James Ponsoldt is quiet but brilliant, as he knew how to delicately get the right performance from every actor, yet managed to keep the energy and the pace of the film. Ponsoldt’s visuals are helped by the cinematography from Jess Hall, which is gorgeous.
A few people have said that The Spectacular Now is the heir apparent to John Hughes, but I feel that’s not accurate. To me, this film is closest to Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything another film about a unique teen romance with fully realized characters. The Spectacular Now is wonderful work from everyone involved, and it’s worthwhile watch, just to see the performances of Woodley and Teller.