You absolutely have to go out of your way, if it isn’t currently directly in your way, to see The Spectacular Now (2013). I’m not saying you should get on a plane and come to New York City if you’re elsewhere because it’s also playing in Chicago, San Francisco, DC, and LA and it’s coming out this Friday at the Angelicka in Dallas and presumably some places to which I have no connection. So you’re pretty much covered. The Spectacular Now is tied with Stoker (2013) (review) for my favorite movie of this year and that’s being charitable to Stoker. No other movie out there this year was as purely honest and real as The Spectacular Now. If you came across Your Sister’s Sister (2012) (review) last year, then you’ll know the kind of thing that I mean. My schlock censor is going into overdrive with all of the words I’ve almost used. Here’s a taste: moving, touching, resonant, deeply felt, joyous.
Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) has just gone through a pretty nasty breakup with Cassidy (Brie Larson). It wasn’t a mess, but you can tell it cut Sutter deep. Sutter isn’t the kind of guy who lets things get too deep. He’s a pleaser and a partier, the class clown, and an all-round good guy. [NB: Some of you (us) who were not always of the coolest crowd may rush to judge Sutter as a D-bag of some capacity, but this is erroneous.] After a hearty party, Sutter is awakened on someone’s lawn without any memory of where his car might be. Aimee Flicker (Shailene Woodley)–sorry, that’s what the credits say–is the one who woke him up, coming across him on her paper route–or, rather, on her mother’s paper route that Aimee dutifully covers when mom isn’t feeling it. Aimee is clearly in serious crush-mode over Sutter who, because of his lofty social status, is completely ignorant of her existence. Sutter, sensing Aimee’s appreciation for his attentions and being good-hearted strikes up a relationship that slowly, but surely, blossoms into more and more. But there’s always a dark shadow over their lives from things they don’t always fully grasp.
The lovey-dovey stuff is great, I love to see affection and it always makes me smile, but The Spectacular Now is most glorious in the harsher depths. That’s really saying something because the waters in the shallower end of the pool are extremely well done. The kind of wit and humor on display would more than amply supply another coming-of-age film. Perhaps this isn’t too surprising coming from the writers of (500) Days of Summer (2009), Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (based on the novel and National Book Award Finalist by Tim Tharp). What they know and can express extremely well are the vagaries of young relationships with a comic (but not farcical) tone. So they get my Best Adapted Screenplay nod, but if the book is represented in the film, Tim Tharp has to get ultimate credit for my loving the movie. The story here, and I barely hinted at it in the plot description, along with the characters are magnificently drawn. I love them.
Teller and Woodley as the leads are incredible. Teller, and I’m surely not the first to observe this, is like Shia LaBeouf with far more ability. In our current moment in film/television history the idea of a character we like but don’t is utterly unremarkable. We’ve gotten to a place where a serial murderer is the protagonist. But Teller plays a role–and lets bring the writers in for a share of this credit–that goes well beyond that. Because Sutter is the wing man in any other movie. You know how you watch those fun coming-of-age movies and you (possibly) think how cool that secondary character is, you know, the one who gets to tell all the jokes. The Spectacular Now makes that character the central figure and shows how that kid’s life really is. When that character comes very close to being too obnoxious to tolerate in those romps, The Spectacular Now goes a step further by giving him some rather nasty habits which he inflicts on the most darling young woman you’ve ever seen.
And that brings me to Woodley as Ms. Flicker. Woodley plays that role with such vulnerability in every scene of the film that if I saw her when I left the theater, I would have hugged her until the police arrived. Oh and do they ever take advantage of those feelings! I tend to invest quite a bit of myself when I watch a movie, but at one point of the movie I was so concerned for her welfare that I said “Oh no” (aloud) as one might of a family pet in danger. The way she did that, burrowing deep into my heart place, was by being totally genuine. The same with Teller. I don’t think I’ve seen anything where the actors seemed so real. A part of that is they…how do I say this…they aren’t Hollywood pretty or even Hollywood’s version of “average”. Woodley is genuinely beautiful, but in that home-spun freckly way while Teller is a bit pudgy with a nose that looks like its seen its fair share of breakages. [So did Sean Penn‘s at that age.] But it made me love them more. (Shout out to Kyle Chandler for doing a knock-out job as Sutter’s dad.)
Can I talk about the movie-making side of it? Can I? I loved everything about it. Director James Ponsoldt with cinematographer Jess Hall made it a little darker than usual but it didn’t strain my eyes. It added to the intimacy of those moments. There’s something glorious about following a car from a close bird’s eye, isn’t there? And I haven’t had as positive a reaction to a score as I did to Mr. Rob Simonsen‘s in far too long. If you like a good cry, do I have a movie for you.
I know it isn’t good form, but I just can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about it.