Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: "The Spectacular Now"

The irony inherent in the title of "The Spectacular Now" is that living in the moment means you could be jeopardizing all the moments ahead of you. So it behooves you to make the right now terrific -- or at least convince yourself it is.

Perhaps that's why Sutter Keely is a walking fountain of self-affirmation, constantly commenting rosily on whatever his current situation is: "This is awesome!" "I love all of you guys!" "Together, we're invincible or something!"

As played graciously by Miles Teller, Sutter is the very model of self-composed joviality. He works so very hard at appearing laidback and uncaring. He's fine-tuned his patter to such a perfect pitch, fooling teachers, parents and fellow high school seniors, that he's even bought into his own myth.

Sutter is a man without a plan, and stubbornly so. When we first meet him he's crafting a college application essay sure to get a quick toss from every reputable institution in the U.S. He's writing blithely about getting dumped by his girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), with whom he was half of the most popular couple in school.

He blows off the breakup, and quickly latches onto Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) on the rebound. She's a quiet, driven girl who practically disappears into the crowd of their school -- in other words, she's Sutter's polar opposite.

It's pretty obvious to anyone watching that Sutter is hoping to inspire enough jealousy in Cassidy to spur her back into his arms, but she soon hooks up with an overachieving jock (Dayo Okeniyi) and Sutter finds himself stuck.

It's also rather evident that Aimee is completely clueless in the ways of romance, even the teen kind, and takes all her cues from Sutter. He sort of latches onto her, and part of his personality begins to bleed into hers.

One of the primary ways is drinking. While occasionally getting blackout drunk at weekend parties, Sutter has achieved functional alcoholism at age 17, skating through the day with a near-constant buzz. He carries a flask and spikes his omnipresent oversized soda to keep it going.

Soon enough Aimee is following suit, and we sense it's only a matter of time before their pairing leads to disaster. Woodley, so good as the frustrated daughter in "The Descendants," practically aches with innocence, so clearly thrilled to finally "have a thing," aka to be defined in some way -- even if it is as the class cutup's girl.

Director James Ponsoldt, who directed last year's largely unseen "Smashed," is clearly fascinated by stories of addiction and self-destruction. While alcoholism isn't as front and center as it was in that film, "The Spectacular Now" is the story of people who are on their way to serious problems.

Alcohol is easily accessible, taken as matter-of-fact, and consumed copiously. Parents are largely absent or indifferent.

I especially liked the way Ponsoldt strives to make his actors seem like real teens, blemishes and all -- quite literally, in fact. Teller and Woodley display the spotty complexions and scars of flesh-and-blood young people.

The screenplay is by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who wrote the wonderful "(500) Days of Summer" a few years ago, based on a novel by Tim Tharp. Its strength is never feeling forced or constructed, the dialogue and exchanges organic and unforced.

At times, though, I felt like the story focused too much on Sutter's problems and not enough on Aimee's motivations and emotional identity. He is the subject of the movie, and she is the object whom he acts upon.

But even if it is a character portrait rather than a star-crossed love story, "The Spectacular Now" lives its moments with bravery and truth.

1 comment:

  1. I have not seen “The Spectacular Now” although I saw the preview at the movies last Sunday.
    I am pleased to have found your review of The Butler, sorry, Lee Daniel’s The Butler. My husband and I don’t go to the movies often but last Sunday we decided to go and see Blue Jasmine then The Butler. We bought our tickets for Blue Jasmine but when we asked for the tickets to the Butler, they were sold out. However we were early for Blue Jasmine so we peeked into the theatre where The Butler was playing – it was the beginning. The butler as a boy, I guess, was in a cotton field in Georgia and his mother was taken by the overseer, raped I presumed. When the father looked at the overseer, the overseer shot him point blank. Then we left to see Blue Jasmine. I have been living in Georgia for decades, but I am originally from Paris, France, so I don’t know, but it seems to me that this was a scene from pre-civil war Georgia. I don’t think that in the 1920s, when the butler was a boy, a field hand of any color could be murdered like that. I also read that this was during the time of the boll weevil infestation – there was not much cotton and it was hard to find labour. In any case, after watching that I decided not to go back later to see The Butler as I think it cannot be really based on a true story. Your review confirmed that – thank you. I’d like to read your review on Blue Jasmine, if you saw it.