This beautiful coming of age drama is director James Ponsoldt second feature and is about an eighteen year old boy named Sutter whose main philosophy in life is to “live in the moment”. Sutter takes nothing seriously and is always the life of the party, but after breaking up with his girlfriend Cassidy, cracks start to appear in Sutter’s unaffected life. He is confronted by one of his teachers who explains to Sutter that if he fails his geometry class (which he is set to do) he will not graduate. To rectify this, Sutter searches out Aimee, an intelligent yet shy girl, in the hopes that she may tutor him towards a passing grade. Aimee is a girl that Sutter would normally never take a second look at, but while studying together, he gets to know Aimee for who she really is and ends up falling for the girl. For the first time in a long time, Sutter has found someone who can look beyond the jokes and good times, and can actually believe in him which may be enough for him to stop living in the now and start planning for the future.
“The Spectacular Now” is an absolutely delightful film about that stage in a person’s life when they go from being a big fish in a small pond (ie. school) to a little fish in the real world. It is a time when they have to grow up and finally take responsibility for their own lives. What makes the film so enjoyable and engaging are the performances from Miles Teller as Sutter and Shailene Woodley as Aimee. They are both wonderful displaying real honest emotions at all times that is rare to see in teen films these days. Initially I thought I was going to hate Teller’s performance as Sutter, he just seemed so full of himself and so smarmy, but it didn’t take long for me to warm up to him as we realize this joker actually has a big heart. In fact Teller’s line delivery reminded me of a very young Vince Vaughn (around the time of “Swingers”) as he gave the dialogue a real rhythmic quality to it. Aimee is such a beautiful character, she is so inoffensive (but not in an annoying bad way) and seems to be able to see the good in everyone. Woodley does a great job of putting across how shy this girl is (but never intimidated by the world) as we watch her blossom before our eyes as her confidence grows the more she is with Sutter. While Sutter on the other hand, starts to grow up a little and start to look ahead thanks to the influence of Aimee.
When the film began I felt like I knew exactly where it was going. He was going to date the unpopular girl, only to dump her when his peers didn’t approve until he realized he actually loved her and he then does everything he can to win her back. Thankfully Ponsoldt does not pander to cliché and the film is nothing like that at all, rather it instead tackles a number of much deeper issues, and maturely so, than I was expecting. Although Sutter walks through life as though he is unaffected, we learn that he does have a lot of fears, failings and issues he is trying to deal with, and Aimee makes him confront these issues and to make him stand up and start to take control of his life.
Issues such as alcoholism, abandonment and a general fear of failure are all tackled, but Ponsoldt does so with such a light touch that the film is never dragged down by its weighty themes and issues. I personally loved the way the story of Sutter’s alcoholism is weaved into the story so naturally without ever becoming preachy. Another strength of the film is the point where the story ends because this too reflects real life. Everything is not perfect at the end, Sutter may not get his life on track and he may not end up with the girl, but it is a new beginning for him and for once Sutter is willing to work for what he wants with an eye towards the future.
Overall, I found “The Spectacular Now” to be a beautiful and utterly engaging coming of age drama. Populated by very real and likable characters, the film is sensitively acted by its young cast. Director James Ponsoldt does a terrific job of tackling some pretty serious topics, but he never lets the weight of these subjects make the film too heavy or preachy. I was also very impressed by his use of widescreen photography for what is basically an intimate drama. “The Spectacular Now” was a real delight.