Film review: ‘The Spectacular Now,’ tells it like it is for teens

Film review: ‘The Spectacular Now,’ tells it like it is for teens
Shailene Woodley, left, and Miles Teller are teens seeking their way in the world in “The Spectacular Now.” Photo by Wilford Harewood

Witty, touching, and sad in many places that hit close to home, “The Spectacular Now” paints an authentic, vibrant portrayal of teenage life and refuses to shy away from the seemingly unimportant details, and we have Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley to thank for that. 

High school senior Sutter Keely is not the kind of person who thinks about the future; he lives in the moment and enjoys every second he gets out of it.

He’s content with his job at a men’s clothing store and sees college as a waste of effort. With his charming and self-possessed personality, he is your go-to person for partying and having the time of your life. And on top of that, you can expect him to never be too far away from his whiskey-enhanced beverages.

But after his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), breaks up with him, Sutter drowns his sorrows and ends up waking on the lawn of Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), the “nice girl” from his school.

She’s his complete opposite: she has a passion for science fiction and aspires to attain her destiny. These two teenagers — one who savors living in the now and the other who dreams of having a future — shouldn’t be together, yet somehow, they can’t resist each other.

Sounds like something you’d expect from a coming-of-age story, right? Think this won’t be full of surprises? Well, prepare to be dumbfounded, because “The Spectacular Now” strikes a chord with the sensitive minds and leaves a mark that cannot be erased.

Director James Ponsoldt presents the transition from youth to adulthood in a blunt manner, neither sugarcoating nor undermining the issues many teenagers face in today’s world.

Times are frequent indeed where you will want to say “everything’s going to be all right,” but then the next scene pops in and you’re itching to think “how could he or she do such a thing?” In fact, this film doesn’t just showcase teenagers’ attitudes about the future; rather, it makes them matter.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Tim Tharp, “The Spectacular Now” benefits from a script that gives the actors room to breathe; this allows their characters to evolve in whatever direction their choices take them.

I was surprised at the naturalistic quality of the dialogue as I listened to the interactions between the two leads; this writing is as authentic as it gets in respects to how teenagers express themselves.

There’s no way “The Spectacular Now” could’ve triumphed without the participation of Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley; these two were absolutely perfect for their roles.

In the case of Teller, he turns in a lively performance as Sutter, seizing the day on a regular basis and taking all he can get based on his surprisingly believable philosophy. As for Woodley, she exudes a wonderful blend of sincerity, intuition and vulnerability that makes her Aimee all the more exciting. To tell the truth, their lines sound so natural you’d think these are actually real people talking.

We also get to see a handful of impressive moments from the supporting cast, which includes Brie Larson as Sutter’s ex, Cassidy; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his married, well-off sister; Dayo Okeniyi as football player Marcus; Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter’s stressed out mom; Kyle Chandler as his mysterious dad. While the film’s focus may not be on them, they help to ground the universe in which the leads dwell, providing a realistic lens through which to see the truth and the delusions of life.

When you go see “The Spectacular Now,” you won’t leave the theater without feeling deeply affected by a film so personal that you can’t ignore it. As you witness these teens face hardships while the ever-looming cloud representing the future draws closer, take a moment to realize the difficulties they will have to confront on the road to the outcome they want to find. This is an important film that cannot be missed for the sake of its very real message.

MPAA rating: R for alcohol use, language and some sexuality — all involving teens.
Running time: 1 hour and 35 minutes
Playing: In general release

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