The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now PosterSometimes you remind me so much of your father.

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.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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3 Responses to The Spectacular Now

  1. fuzzy dunlop says:

    It’s clear we have different taste in films — I saw Stoker and thought it was good but not the type of movie I would pay or go out of my way to see (and certainly not see again) — but I just don’t get TSN. Maybe I’m missing something.

    It’s been a great year for indie/artsy films so far — Stories We Tell, Frances Ha, Mud, and Fruitvale Station all stand out for me. (Especially Stories and Fruitvale, which have been my two favorites of 2013.) And because things have been so good, I’ve been really looking forward to seeing TSN ever since hearing about it weeks (months?) ago.

    I was hugely disappointed.

    Watching the film, I kept waiting, waiting…. and waiting for it to get good; for it to get relatable, enthralling, for that “a-ha” moment where you say to yourself “this is great.” That moment never came.

    I found the lead male character highly obnoxious and unrelatable. The plot was boring and contrived and contained plenty o’ holes. The “car accident” scene is ridiculous; the moment when she actually gets hit by the car looked like it was ripped from one of the terrible “Final Destination” sequels, and what should have resulted in severe injury and trauma — if not death — results in a little face bruise and a soft sling for one arm. …What?!

    The eventual reunion toward the end of the film was predictable, and there was even one shot that looked almost exactly like the final shot in Good Will Hunting as Matt Damon drives off to reunite with his beau. Some of the scenes featuring the lead character’s ex-girlfriend were unnecessary, distracting, and confusing.

    I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m missing something. I loved (500) Days, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Mud, Breakfast Club, etc… I was expecting TSN to be special. It was a flat, boring disappointment. The one moment I truly enjoyed and could relate to and which evoked some real emotion was when the lead male character wrote the letter toward the end of the film talking about his lifetime of emotional avoidance, etc… Other than that, meh. Wondering what your thoughts are.

    • I can see that Stoker might not be everyone’s cup of tea because of the violence and psychological weirdness. I think Stoker is a lot like Drive was in 2011, but with even fewer people watching it.

      The Spectacular Now doesn’t have any of that kind of instantly-objectionable content. It did have central character that were not clearly heroic. To me, that’s what made the movie special or (at a minimum) different. There were parts of both characters that I could relate to in a pretty significant way. Enough, at least, for me to really want to understand the ways in which they were unlike me. But relating to or liking the characters shouldn’t make the movie unenjoyable. I probably had the inverse response that you had to Frances Ha, but I accepted its honesty and tried to pull something out of it.

      As for the plot, I think the skipping was intentional (if that’s what you meant by holes). And the ex-girlfriend comes in and out to show that Sutter isn’t moving on and is heading in the direction of seriously hurting Aimee. The car accident did have the same look as a horror movie, but there was meaning beyond merely frighting the audience. Though, I agree that the limited harm caused did seem odd.

      It seems to me that the reason it didn’t get good for you and was thoroughly excellent for me was that the movie was pretty consistent. I can see how someone who wasn’t on board would find it flat because it never pulled away from itself until the very end.

  2. Pingback: Top 13 Films of 2013 | Prof. Ratigan Reviews

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