Young Stars on the Rise Elevate "The Spectacular Now" Review

If nothing else, James Ponsoldt's adaptation of Tim Tharp's novel will be remembered for the fine, measured performances of its young cast and a standout from a consistently reliable supporting actor. The Spectacular Now, having cooled its heels from a rapturous Sundance debut, now feels less remarkable and more observational, effective but average, notable largely for its intelligence when contrasted against the lowest-common-denominator approach of the romantic dramedy genre.

Sutter Keely (a compelling, wounded Miles Teller) sees no reason for making waves – on the cusp of his graduation, he is an easygoing senior who fancies himself the life of the party. Permanently buzzed, Sutter’s functioning alcoholism has yet to dismantle what is, under initial observation, a pretty good life. A consistently work-bound but caring mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and an absentee father provide the freedom that most teenagers crave before they realize what’s been missing and a breakup with Cassidy (Brie Larson) doesn’t slow Sutter down – not immediately anyway.

When it does and drinking progress to blackout levels, Sutter awakes on a foreign lawn, one Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) checking up on him. The chance meeting leads to Aimee tutoring Sutter and the present chemistry begins to grow into a powerful current that threatens to upset the careful lives our leads have cultivated. As Aimee struggles to escape the bonds of a family that’s come to rely on her financially and emotionally, Sutter attempts to come to terms to both his physical addiction and the cavity left by his father’s lack of presence.

Now, in September 2014, with Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars behind us, it’s safe to say Ms. Woodley has cemented her place as a serious dramatic lead with box office potential. Meanwhile, Teller’s starring role in the upcoming Whiplash look to do the same for him. Seeing them here is touching, in part because director James Ponsoldt understands how broken people whittle themselves down and sap the life-force of those around them, and also because the screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber grants Woodley and Teller mostly authentic dialogue and an opportunity to explore the unspoken in-betweens.

How you’ll respond to Spectacular Now will depend in a big way on whether the low-key drama connects with you in a powerfully resonant way. I, for one, found the film to be too slight – certainly touching in parts, memorable in its depiction of Sutter’s struggle with his alcoholism and Aimee navigation of and acceptance of sex in their relationship – but altogether hewing too closely to an ambiguous whole. Perhaps that’s a more honest approach but when the unexpectedly conventional third act rolls unspools, you are left hoping for a dramatic resolution that does not feel like a gentle murmur. However, the performances are uniformly excellent and Kyle Chandler makes a late but truly memorable cameo, his few scenes filled with tension and pain masked by wounded pride and theatrical charisma. The Spectacular Now speaks to those who will listen, but one should be prepared for gradually decreasing returns as the film comes to a rightfully unclear conclusion that nonetheless feels a tad disappointing.

Bonus Features

A commentary with director James Ponsoldt, twenty minutes of deleted scenes and a fairly standard Making-Of.

"The Spectacular Now" is on sale January 14, 2014 and is rated R. Comedy, Drama, Romance. Directed by Jb Rogers, James Ponsoldt. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on the novel by Tim Tharp. Starring Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley.

Sep
03
2014
Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.

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