Directed by James Ponsoldt
Written by Scott Neustradter & Michael H. Weber
With this blog I express my opinion. I am not arrogant or naive enough to hold my thoughts as fact, especially when it comes to matters of art interpretation. At least I don’t think I am. Art, which includes the film medium, is open for interpretation, and the thing I love most about art is the fact that each person brings something unique to the table when it comes to consumption and reception. You and I could look at the same picture, same painting, same film, and see two completely different things. With that in mind, I hope my reviews are interesting and insightful enough to enhance your own opinion on a film, or perhaps give you an idea of what to expect so you can make an informed decision on whether to seek the film out or not. This is all just an extremely roundabout and verbose way of saying that The Spectacular Now warranted a very personal, relatable reaction from me which may or may not be replicated in each viewer, even more so than the common film.
These are high school kids, younger than I am yes, but believe it or not, I was that age once as well. Sutter (Miles Teller) is that popular kid. We all know him. The smooth, confident one that is friends with anyone he meets. He has a great girlfriend, and is always the life of the party. We also all know Aimee (Shailene Woodley), who is the shy girl next door who keeps to her nice group of friends and is perhaps more naive than most other girls her age. The two are not a pair you might expect. Neither of them would expect it either. But when Sutter finds himself passed out one morning in the front yard of a house on Aimee’s paper route (which she does for her mom to help pay the bills), Aimee and Sutter begin a unique friendship, offering the other love, friendship, and companion they need at this point in their lives.
Just as you already know Sutter and Aimee, you also already know this movie. The mix-matched couple who compliment each other as they grow from young adulthood. But you haven’t seen it quite like this before, and a lot of that has to do with the honesty of the film. Written by the same team that brought the fresh take on the romantic comedy in (500) Days of Summer, this film excels in authenticity and originality. The character types are the ones we’ve always known, but the details of their emotions and the performances touch us with a sense of reality and truth rarely seen to this extent in the genre. There are more than a few scenes throughout the film that seemed to grab my heart right out of my chest, in both the most joyous and mournful of ways.
Much of this is so efficiently, and brilliantly, communicated by the two leads, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. Teller, whom I had placed in the party boy stereotype after turns in Project X and 21 & Over, plays off this persona, but with a balance of delicate frailty. The overly confident socialite, the popular kid who makes everyone else feel better about themselves, who deep down is more insecure in his own self-esteem and future than anyone else.Woodley, coming off a heralded performance in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, equals Teller in the raw openness with which they both play their characters. Each is on their own separate trails of insecurity as they traverse the rocky hill of high school, to see what awaits them on the other side. Their chemistry together is perfect, right down those awkward moments in a budding relationship.
Some may find the characters to be trite, constructed, and false; it’s true. Although I connected so deeply with these characters, being able to relate to aspects of both their personalities, I can also admit that not only may my experience be unique, but that many of the plot points throughout the film were conventional. What sets this particular film apart from others of its kind is the central performances, hands down. The writers gave them enough of a personal touch, and Teller/Woodley filled in the rest with a flair for the natural. Never did it ring false. What I found was this was a contemplative film. Every so often I will exit a theater and be kept in thought for hours, even days afterward, swirling thoughts on the film around, contemplating not just the meaning of the film, of the characters, but contemplating the deeper themes explored. The Spectacular Now is one of those films. A gift to my psyche, imagination, and a gift to my heart.