IFFBoston 11 Review: The Spectacular Now
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Miles Turner, Shailene Woodley, and Brie Larson
Plot: A party-hard teen gets a wake-up call when he falls for the nice girl next door.
Generation Y has been called a lot of things. Lazy. Privileged. Tech savvy. Both unmotivated and motivated, which is weird. And also the Peter Pan Generation. The Peter Pan Generation refers to Gen-Y’s tendency for putting off adulthood, and that is exactly what this movie is about.
Sutter Keely (Miles Turner) is having some trouble writing a college entry essay. He has to pick a hardship he has overcome and explain how it has prepared him for his future. He just stares at it with a cynic smirk swigging beer though. He is 18. He is the life of the party, so he says. He does just enough work to get by. He makes friends with everyone he meets practically. So far the guy has had it pretty easy. He is the son of a single mother who works all the time and his father is no where to be found, but for some reason those facts just seem to roll off his shoulder like no big deal. The only thing he can come up with is breaking up with his long time party-hardy girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson) and how it sucks seeing her at parties with another guy when they used to show up together. I’m guessing that is not the kind of hardship they are talking about. Its hard to have serious hardships when you live in the now (the spectacular now) like Sutter does.
After one night trying to drown his break-up blues, he ends up passed out in front of a classmate’s house. That classmate is Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), a shy, bookish teen who is far more clever and personable than her wallflower status would let on. They strike up a quick romance, and it is easy to see why. The two of them have chemistry coming out of their ears. The dialog is so well written and so well performed that it sounds more like improv than script. It is something that this movie has in common with Ponsoldt’s previous feature, Smashed, one of my favorite movies of 2013, and it is not the only thing in common.
What made Smashed stand out from a lot of other movies was not just its blunt look at alcoholism, but also its blunt look at how people change. In The Spectacular Now, Sutter is pretty cemented in his “live in the now” philosophy, and he is faced with what happens when you grow old while living in the now in a very depressing way. In the usual Hollywood fare, this would result in a montage of him getting better with a nice happy ending. Ponsoldt seems much more interesting in an unsatisfying (for lack of a better word) ending. And I say “for lack of a better word” because it really isn’t unsatisfying for me as an audience member. It is technically unresolved and left open to a number of different possibilities, but this movie (as well as Smashed) takes so much care in not treating us with kid gloves or dumbing down the content because its about teenagers that I think it would be insulting to just wrap it up in a nice bow like all the problems of the characters are just gone because of a climatic wake-up call.
What Else to Watch: For an outstanding performance from Miles Teller, watch Rabbit Hole. For an outstanding performance from Shailene Woodley, watch The Descendants. And for another story about teenagers grappling with their own real world problems, watch The Perks of Being a Wallflower.