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Nov 14, 2014

Review: THE SPECTACULAR NOW (2013)


Cast:
            Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Dayo Okeniyi, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Andre Royo, Bob Odenkirk, Kaitlyn Dever, Masam Holden, Gary Weeks, Whitney Goin and Nicci Faires

Director:
                    James Ponsoldt


Review:
                  Garnering great acclaim at Sundance Film Festival last year, The Spectacular Now became a must watch film. It won the Special Jury Award for Acting and went on to receive much more admiration and warmth from both film goers and critics. This James Ponsoldt directed film is based on the book of same name by Tim Tharp and is written by both Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. In recent years, we have had a renaissance of teen-centered films of sorts with the best example being "The Perks of Being a Wallflower". Both these films captured the spirit of teenage years without resolving to clich├ęs and conventions. They didn't shy away from delving further and deeper into the psyche and emotions of its characters. Characters with rough edges and circumstances, the formative years that would eventually shape these people into more formed and affirmed people. Teens on the cusp of adulthood, finding out themselves and realizing what future may or may not hold for them. Those are the years when you learn so much about the world you are 'actually' going to enter. People either never grow up or they continue to evolve over their entire life-span. I think the idea of growing up has more to do with thinking and being the age you are for the world. The process of evolving and education never stops, even when everything else seems to be. The Spectacular Now is the kind of comedy-drama that moves me much more on a personal level, a deeper realization and recognition in the characters that are portrayed and then reflecting back on it. Like the long-lost friends suddenly unearths and all the memories and feelings attached to them comes rushing back. Or the echoes of past that one no longer hears in the whirlwind of our hectic lives. Identifying with the characters is just a plus point, it isn't everything for me to appreciate a film. But there is something eternally satisfying when you see the people within the characters in a film like this, behaving and talking like they usually do. For once, a film that gets those aspects right and never rings false. A film where love feels love, where love brings complications, where life isn't a set path, where characters cannot be pinned down in one sentence.




                  Sutter Keely (Teller) is a high school senior with a motto that he closely follows, to live in the now. He is hedonistic, drinking and parties, careless living. He has a girlfriend Cassidy (Larson) who eventually dumps him. Sutter's lack of ambition and his alcoholism being the reasons. Drinking heavily afterwards, Sutter wakes up on a stranger's lawn and finds Aimee Finecky (Woodley) standing there. Aimee seems like a very nice girl, not an outright dork or a typical high school shy-girl even though she loves science fiction and doesn't really bother wearing ounces of makeup. Sutter likes to hang out with her, helping her out with paper route for instance or causal lunches. Inviting her to his usual parties, she slowly opens herself to him. Sutter also asks Aimee to tutor him. He doesn't immediately falls for Aimee but finds a kind of comfort hanging out with her while he is recovering from his breakup. During the prom or whenever he spots Cassidy, Sutter temporarily loses focus and always directs his attention towards her. He leaves Aimee feeling like just a friend and nothing more. Cassidy, just like every other aspect of his 'spectacular now' reality is a crucial element for the kind of life he is living. On the other hand, Cassidy has understood and moved on from her life with Sutter and the childish attributes. It is all in the past for her, there is a future she is looking forward to, a future where she no longer needs fun and messing around. Cassidy has grown up. Sutter is now with Aimee and they are happy. There is although, something missing in Sutter's life. He wants to get to know who his father is while his mother avoids giving any info about where he is right now, a father who left them. But he eventually gets the number from his sister and invites Aimee to join him in this important moment.




                  Up until that point, The Spectacular Now remains a very tender and brightly focused film on the teenagers and their lives. The central characters beautifully evolve right in from of our eyes, mostly Sutter since he is the main focus. The film captures beautiful moments of high school, first love, girlfriends, drinking and so on. A humorous and full of life depiction, not too raw but tightly kept together and evenly depicted. The authenticity and naturalistic depiction that is both in the dialogues and the lives wins one over. During the scene where Aimee and Sutter have sex for the first time, their awkwardness and nervous giggling says it all. One of the most honestly captured moment of that sort between two teens in recent memory. Their conversations together aren't off-putting but involving due to their nature. Frank and free of any sugar-coating. The big turn in the second half challenges Sutter, it is not something you expect, neither does that comes across as condescending or unnecessary. The meeting with the father doesn't go well because he isn't the father that Sutter or us viewers for that matter imagine. It is a moment of such dark and shaking reality that is not really seen in such films or perhaps dared to explored. A heartbreaking meeting that breaks down Sutter. But the meeting also awakens something much deeper within him. A sudden realization for his future and the path he would like to avoid. He sees his future in his father, fearing that he too would end up like him. Sutter has suddenly woken up from a deep sleep, a dense fog of made up clouds, a never-ending hangover of sorts. This is the moment where he has to decide for himself. Life has brought him to that point, every aspect of consideration is right in front of him. Perhaps he needs to think about the future and what it may hold for him. Forget the now that you think you have or deserve, make it spectacular, grow up.




                  Shailene Woodley delivers a supporting performance that is her best so far. As Aimee, Woodley shines as a girl who is good-natured, sensitive and always sees the best in everyone. Even though her character is supporting, literally too, there is still enough focus given to her as well. She has feelings too, a life of her own and is important. But The Spectacular Now is focused more on Sutter because it presents his story and his views on life, the life that he is living and his process of self-realization and understanding. Therefore every other character seems secondary, even Aimee, not a bad thing considering the film itself. Usually in your standard romantic films these days, female characters are so thinly presented it hurts. Here Aimee embodies a truthful girl who is matured enough to have a sense, people may notice her dorky nature more and negatively point out her too-good-to-be-true nature but that never bothered me. It is based on perspective more than anything, if you think a person cannot be so selfless and good-natured to forgive and forget than that is your worldview. There are never types of people, we always project each other and therefore it is always the tougher part in anyone's life to figure out who they truly are? Anyways, Woodley is truly a joy to watch in this film. A beautiful and luminous performance. Miles Teller has never been better. Such assured and strong performance, finely portraying his character with every bit of emotional honesty throughout. His character might not be easy to love or admire at first but you end up recognizing much of yourself in him and his actions. Good performances by both these actors in the high, low and every other moment in between. Some also nice turns by Kyle Chandler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson and Jennifer Jason Leigh. An all around good ensemble.




                  The Spectacular Now boosts mostly from the strong writing and direction, no serious flaws to be seen. The film really gives its characters a strong focus and puts them up front. They aren't hidden away in order to have a much more conventional lovable and enjoyable film but are given so much depth and honesty. They aren't wise beyond their years, they act their age. On the other hand, their growth is true and not undermined by what they represent. There isn't a romantic notion or a foolish caricature attached to them for their age but given a willful and realistic touch considering they are people after all. Beautifully filmed and assembled scenes after scenes. Funny in parts and sad in others. Life affirming but not overtly cute. Compassionate portrayal of teenagers observing everything around them at that important point of their life when adulthood is just a step away. It is one of the best films of 2013 and one of the better films about teenagers in decades.


Grade: A-