Spectacular Now, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/29/13 04:10:36

"The fairly impressive now, at least."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON: It's hard enough to try to review the first films to play a festival, writing a paragraph at a time between other screenings, but something like "The Spectacular Now" makes it even more difficult. It's does almost nothing wrong and the cast is pretty great. It's easy enough to recommend, though, managing to be quite good if not quite, well, spectacular.

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) was just dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) over something that seems innocent enough, although given how quickly she's paired up with star athlete Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi), she might have just been looking for an excuse. Upset, Sutter gets drunk, and is found passed out the next morning by Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley) on her paper route. They start hanging out together.

Kids grow up so fast today. Time was, you'd get movies about troubled teenagers and movies about alcoholics driving their lives into the ground, and they'd be separate movies made for separate audiences. This two-for-one deal of a movie hardly chronicles a new phenomenon, and it's certainly not the first time I've seen teenagers drinking on-screen, but I don't know if it's ever been so central to the characters rather than just a reaction to other things going on. In fact, it still mostly plays that way - it's not about people feeling like they need to help Sutter get sober, so the audience will tend to look elsewhere for some other root to his issues until it eventually becomes clear that this is something pervasive, not a weekend-binging reaction.

That's actually an impressive feat on director James Ponsoldt's part, though I'm sure that there are some fairly clear signals in there as well. He and writers Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (forking from Tim Tharp's book) manage to build Sutter's story up without a lot of big events, sort of disguising it as a more typical teen movie where a kid takes up with a less-popular girl in order to make his ex-girlfriend jealous only to find that the new girl is actually pretty awesome. At times, this disguise actually works a bit too well - the filmmakers need to spell out Sutter's better nature later on because they haven't been able to demonstrate it as well as they might have liked - but it also doesn't shackle them; they manage to break free and jump over bits that would serve as filler.

Having a couple very good young actors in the lead roles doesn't hurt the situation at all. Miles Teller is just right or very close to it as Sutter, finding a good spot where audiences can tell that the character is covering up how low he feels constantly without seeming maudlin or inappropriately manic. There's weight his performance, but not enough to capsize the picture. Shailene Woodley does something similar, kind of forcing her way into co-lead status despite being just one of many characters mainly defined by how they relate to Sutter. There's a sweetness to Aimee that can initially seem like immaturity or innocence, especially considering the way she falls in with Sutter's bad ideas, but it proves a solid foundation for someone interested on her own. Brie Larson winds up being given - and delivering - much more than expected as Cassidy, and it's kind of a shame that Jennifer Jason Leigh isn't given quite as much chance to make an impression throughout the movie as Sutter's mother as Kyle Chandler is in a concentrated sequence as the father.

Huh, maybe "The Spectacular Now" has more to recommend it than might initially appear to be the case. It doesn't necessarily merit inclusion on the list of great coming of age films - that genre tends to blur together so much that standing out by just being well-executed is tough - but it's a nice example, with a pair of actors worth keeping an eye on.

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