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By Daniel Lammin
4th December 2013

Following their acclaimed drama ‘(500) Days of Summer’ (2009), writers Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter turned to Tim Tharp’s acclaimed novel ‘The Spectacular Now’, the resulting film opening earlier this year at Sundance to overwhelming acclaim. A tender look at an emerging high school relationship, it promised the same emotional power as their previous film and last year’s magnificent ‘The Perks of Being A Wallflower’. Whether it fulfils that promise, however, is another thing entirely.

Sutter (Miles Teller) is a high school senior with the world at his feet. Cocky and arrogant, with little regard for authority, he takes everything in his stride, including a messy break-up with his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson). After an extreme all-night bender, Sutter accidentally meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a quiet classmate he’s never noticed before. Using her to fill the void left by Cassidy, Sutter finds himself falling for Aimee, and together they force each other to face their demons.

Initially, ‘The Spectacular Now’ launches itself wonderfully, with director James Ponsoldt matching Sutter’s irreverence with bombastic filmmaking, aided by Rob Simonsen’s terrific score. The first act of the film seems to be heading in the right direction, the blooming relationship between Aimee and Sutter that perfect balance of charming romance and an undercurrent of disaster approaching. There are certainly a number of issues raised. Sutter is clearly a broken young man, pining for an absent father and spinning wildly towards alcoholism, while Aimee may suffer from abusive parents and rejection by her peers at school, though she keeps her issues very close to their chest.


Where ‘The Spectacular Now’ suffers, however, is that once these ideas are introduced, they are only shallowly explored. The challenges facing these two young people are glanced over at surface level, so the film feels undercooked and unsatisfying. Sutter’s broken family is only vaguely discussed, and when his estranged father appears (Kyle Chandler), the revelations about him are relatively harmless. Everyone is willing to say that Sutter is heading down the wrong path, but no-one seems to really want to do anything about it. Aimee suffers even more so. Sutter is warned by his classmates that Aimee is too strange to be involved with, but this is never explained, confused even more by the fact that she is easily the most charming character in the film. There are also strong suggestions that something terrible is going on at home for Aimee, but this is never resolved or explored, and by the time the film reaches its final act, that unresolved tension peters away, leaving the film relatively flaccid. There is so much potential in ‘The Spectacular Now’, but for some reason, none of it is taken advantage of, much of it smothered by a surprisingly unadventurous and predictable screenplay.

The challenges facing these two young people are glanced over at surface level, so the film feels undercooked and unsatisfying.

Thankfully, the performances bolster the film a bit. Miles Teller is the most charming of jerks as Sutter, and is able to balance his more ridiculous moments of bravado with genuine shock and confusion. His is the showy performance, which makes Shailene Woodley even more impressive as she quietly steals the film. Early on, she was picked as a talent to watch, and here she firmly establishes herself. There is an ease to her performance, a charming delicacy that probably goes a long way to make Aimee a far more intriguing character than Sutter. We get the feeling there is far more going on behind her eyes, and you can’t help wanting to know more. Woodley is certainly destined for great things. The supporting cast is also great, especially the ever-wonderful Brie Larson, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Sutter’s well-off older sister Holly.

‘The Spectacular Now’ presents all the hallmarks of an affecting and powerful teen drama, but eventually delivers only a quarter of that. We know and accept enough about the challenges of being a teenager to understand that it can be a brutal and unforgiving time, and the best of films have tackled that head on. ‘The Spectacular Now’ seems to think it has a lot to say and a powerful manner in which to say it, but the results seem to have very little new or interesting to say at all. An unexpected disappointment.

RELEASE DATE: 05/12/2013
RUN TIME: 1h 35m
CAST: Shallene Woodley
Miler Teller
Jennifer Jason Leigh
DIRECTOR: James Ponsoldt
WRITERS: Scott Neustadter
Michael H. Weber
PRODUCERS: Michelle Krumm
Andrew Lauren
Shawn Levy
Tom McNulty
SCORE: Rob Simonsen
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