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The Spectacular Now: A Review

Posted by Kenneth Shinozuka on September 22, 2013 at 3:20 AM

The Spectacular Now

Release Date  |  Friday, August 2, 2013

Starring  |   Miles Teller (Sutter Keely), Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), Kyle Chandler (Tommy Keely), Jennifer Janison Leigh (Sara Keely), Brie Larson (Cassidy)

Director  |   James Ponsoldt

Screenwriters  |   Michael H. Weber and Scott Neudstadter 

Runtime  |  100 minutes

Rating   |   R for alcohol use, language, and some sexuality - all involving teens


out of 100


Spectacular Indeed

Posted  |  September 21, 2013

The YOLO-obsessed youth of our society may identify with Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a high school senior who, in the quietly spectacular August film “The Spectacular Now,” lives for the present as if he were to die tomorrow. Even though few others actually take him seriously, he has become the life of every party and a prominent figure in his school’s social atmosphere. Taking comfort from the current lifestyle he has constructed around himself, Sutter possesses no desire to plan for or even consider the future. Rather than filling out his college applications, he drinks heavily out of a flask he has labeled with his own name – the only object in the film that holds a permanent place in Sutter’s life.


Sutter, however, hides a troubled past behind his wide, photogenic smile. His father, Tommy, fought often with Sutter’s mother and one day left the family for reasons unknown to Sutter, never to come back or be seen again.


One night, Sutter becomes so drunk that he jumps out of a car and collapses unconscious on somebody’s lawn. He is awoken the next morning by Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), a fellow senior that Sutter does not recognize. The two have an immediate chemistry that develops into a serious romantic relationship. Her serious work ethic and high-achieving academic record counter Sutter’s underachieving attitude and demonstrate that she may be a positive force in his life. Yet the relationship between Aimee and Sutter is also a deeply personal bond in which neither is afraid to share his or her insecurities with the other. In one of the most pivotal turning points in the film, she encourages him to meet with his estranged father. When their meeting shatters Sutter’s previously positive view of him, Sutter must realize that he is corrupted by the same negative forces – alcoholism and a lack of self-responsibility – that took hold within his father’s life.


In the final third of the film, during which these events transpire, director James Ponsoldt and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber demonstrate an incredibly mature understanding of the transformative years of adolescence. Sutter and Aimee are not caricatures of the teenage weaknesses that are so often mimicked in the movies. Instead, they are authentic characters who embody the pain and conflicts that take place within all of us during our high school days. With its unflinchingly realistic attitude, “The Spectacular Now” never settles for cheap compromises or happy endings in which its characters emerge no wiser or more mature than they were at the beginning. The film is not the story of a relationship, but of two young adults who accept realities that are far harsher than the bubbles in which they previously confined themselves.


Miles Teller offers an inspiring performance as Sutter Keely, keenly portraying his character’s increasing conflicts with himself and the world around him. Teller effortlessly embodies Sutter’s charisma, sense of humor, and cheerful carefreeness. Yet the nuanced expressions so carefully etched on Teller’s face convey the frustrations of a teenager who sees his friends moving on in life while he stays stuck in neutral. With equal brilliance, Shailene Woodley subtly illustrates the transformations that take place within Aimee, as her character breaks free from her introverted cocoon into an adult woman who is more confident and sure of her place in the world.


In a powerful scene after Sutter’s reunion with his father, Sutter’s geometry teacher asks his student, who won’t earn his diploma because of his failing grades, whether he ever has plans of graduating. Sutter responds by saying that he “doesn’t see what’s so great about being an adult,” almost as though high school were a perpetual reality. “Are you happy?” he questions his teacher, as if happiness were the reason that Sutter hangs so desperately to his youth. Of course, we know that he is lying to conceal the fact that he is not yet able to accept responsibility for himself. “The Spectacular Now” finds the difference between living in the now to enjoy its spectacular impermanence, and clinging to the present to both escape the past and elude an unpromising future. 90/100

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