Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Spectacular Now review

Films like The Spectacular Now do not get made often these days. The teen romance/drama genre is a very tricky thing to nail and takes a lot of special attention and care. It's easy to resort to cheap jokes or cliches, but The Spectacular Now does a pretty good job of avoiding all the usual cliches that typically belie films such as these. The film has its set of problems and there's a few missing elements to it that keeps it from being great, but let's face it, a good teen romantic/drama is a rare find these days and The Spectacular Now deserves credit for being just that.

Miles Teller stars as Sutter, a high school senior who's trying to get over a bad breakup. Shailene Woodley plays Aimee Finecky, a smart "good girl" who hasn't had a serious relationship before. Sutter will be her first. Sutter struggles with the idea of moving forward beyond high school. He frequents the high school parties, has developed a bit of a drinking problem, and is obsessed with living in the "now" instead of planning for his future. He comes across Aimee, perhaps, at the right time. Sutter finds himself falling for Aimee without really understanding why, something I'm sure some of us can relate to.

The film is at its best when it explores this relationship. The film moves at a nice, calm pace which makes this relationship feel more natural, realistic. And it's just rare to see a teenage relationship approached with such maturity. The filmmakers really seem to care about the evolution of Sutter and Aimee's relationship and it shows.

It's when the film delves into Sutter's rocky relationship with his father where things aren't quite as strong. Sutter has been living with his mother for a few years now, his father having left him when he was still a kid. Sutter hasn't been able to see his father for years which has been a point of contention between him and his mom. When he finally manages to find the man, he's disappointed in what he sees and fears that he'll grow up to be just like him.

The subplot ties into the overall story and arc of the character, thematically, but it doesn't really play out in a fresh or interesting manner. Plus, it winds up driving a wedge between Sutter and Aimee and leads to a climax that, tonally, feels off from the rest of the film. Then suddenly, this rift between Sutter and Aimee is left unexplored and it's as if the film made a conscious effort to be as light as possible. Overall, the conclusion to Aimee and Sutter's story just feels disappointing since, for the most part, it's handled so beautifully.

Still, this is a nice little film. While it's strongly reminiscent of Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything," it manages to have a voice of its own. At times, it can be too on-the-nose thematically and strains when it moves away from the romance between the two charming leads in favor of the more dramatic subplot, but overall, it makes for a very enjoyable watch. The Spectacular Now is not quite great, but it still has a lot to offer. Director James Ponsoldt deserves a lot of credit for what he manages to do with this script. He handles the material with such class and really elevates things with his confident direction. I just wish he, along with the writers, could have ended the film on a stronger, more powerful note.

Grade: B

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