Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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The Spectacular Now

Film #378


A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.”

Year 2, Film #13

THE REVIEW: It’s hard to believe another month has passed already. Even though I’ve only watched thirteen films this month, I still feel the pressure I used to when I did one film each day. One reason may be that even though I watched less than half the films, I’ve written more this past month that I did compared to a year ago. And I’m actually ahead of schedule with The Spectacular Now ringing up another advanced screening, this time in a new theater1.

When I saw the trailer a couple weeks ago the first thing that crossed my mind was, “I have to see this film.” It reminded me a lot of The Kings of Summer which remains my favorite film so far this year. There was that so-called “indie look” and it covers a topic I’m nowhere near qualified to speak on, but will anyway: relationships. As I’ve said many times, what I love so much about these kinds of films is that they provide a very honest look at a life-situation. It could happen in real life and may have happened to you, or it could be ridiculous and have happened to very few people or no one at all. Regardless, these films are persuasive; they present their case and all their evidence and in the end, you vote for the film. The Spectacular Now certainly has this feel to it, and therefore qualifies to be included with the rest, but there are many parts that shroud the honesty in euphemism and do a disservice to optimists like myself.

The film stars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley as the teenagers Sutter Keely and Aimee Finicky. I’ve seen Teller in Project X and, apparently, in the 2011 remake of Footloose. In Project X Teller is a great fit as the kid who loves to party and I’m sure the same is true for his performance in 21 & Over which came out earlier this year and I haven’t had a chance to see yet. In The Spectacular Now he isn’t that much different: he’s still the partier who is friends with everyone. The character of Sutter is more than just a partier however, there’s a sweeter and kinder side to him and Teller does a good job with it. He’s not amazing by any standard but it’s good to see him branch out a bit and there’s certainly something to look forward to. Woodley on the other hand, who starred in The Descendants (and from what I remember was quite good), continues to impress here in The Spectacular Now. While I have some issues with her character, that gets more into the story and writing aspect rather than her acting.

Continuing with positives, there are many things about The Spectacular Now that I not only enjoyed, but found completely unexpected. One example, which I won’t even give you the slightest hint about so you can go in fresh, had the entire audience caught off guard. Many gasps and sounds of shock could be heard, from myself as well, when said example took place. I don’t think anyone could anticipate this moment, largely in part because it was a bold choice. The payoff afterwards wasn’t as rewarding, but in the moment I was completely engrossed and I give major support to the filmmakers for that moment. Another extremely well done moment was the ending. This is a bit more commonplace nowadays and therefore not completely unexpected, but you’re certainly not anticipating what happens. Personally, I didn’t feel as if there was much mystery as to what takes place, but I certainly enjoyed how the film ends.

What I didn’t like so much was how the film was handled. Again, I’m far from what you’d call qualified to speak about relationships but at least from what I have experience in my own life and from the myriad of relationships I’ve seen in films, The Spectacular Now definitely features a more clichéd and bizarre pairing between Sutter and Aimee. The first area I’ll focus on is the spoken word. A lot of the dialogue falls into standard romantic film clichés about how one loves another or what happens when fights occur. You hear things like, “I’ve been thinking…” and “You’re ‘x adjective’ (pretty, beautiful, etc.)…”. I know that’s not a wide range of examples to go off of but this film is littered with extremely basic and oft-heard sayings. Besides the “I’ve been thinking” example, one of the biggest euphemisms in the film actually has to do with the title, “Now.” Sutter’s character likes to live in the “now”, be spontaneous and only worry about what’s happening “now”. The film tries to glorify this state-of-mind, not just in the title describing it as “spectacular” but in the actions and consequences of the characters. What “now” is a euphemism for, at least as portrayed in this film specifically, is “carefree”. 

Spontaneity is not a bad thing. Far from it. In fact, I envy people who are more spontaneous than me as I am averse to any slight change or derivation of the plans I create. Spontaneity can result in creativity and happy accidents, or as seen here, a lack of responsibility. Sutter’s character uses the “now” (or his carefree attitude) as an excuse to not take anything seriously. He doesn’t do well in school and part of the reason he loses his girlfriend (Brie Larson) at the beginning of the film is because he can’t plan for a future; he doesn’t see what’s so great about being an adult and wants to remain a kid for the rest of his life. It’s great to be a kid, and again we should all hang on to a part of that when we grow up, but like it or not, life comes with responsibilities. Just saying they aren’t there doesn’t mean they don’t exist – it’s not like you’re a baby playing peek-a-boo. And this cavalier attitude of Sutter’s, while what I’m assuming was the intent, irritates me to no end because of the combination with Aimee’s actions.

Aimee is a quiet, relatively unknown girl who Sutter just happens to run across when he passes out on the lawn after a party. She’s never had a boyfriend before and after one study session for geometry, she falls in love with Sutter. In less than a year (probably less than 7 or 8 months even) quite a lot occurs and at senior prom, Aimee asks Sutter to move to Philadelphia with her as she goes to college (and he would hopefully find a job and possibly enroll in a community college; at least that’s her plan). Now, call me old-fashioned, but not only does that sound rash, but it also sounds highly unlikely given the circumstances. To begin tying everything up, I’ll circle back around to my mention of optimism. I’m not saying that the scenario presented is impossible (there are many stories of high-school sweethearts). I’m not saying that choosing an unlikely scenario makes the movie bad because it’s hard to believe and follow. What I am saying is that the evolution of events is ridiculous and it just happens to be hard to believe. As an optimist who believes everything will work out, somehow, in the end, to see optimistic characters like Aimee (who wants Sutter to follow her and be with her forever) and Sutter (who wants to live each day to its fullest) to act so nonsensically is cringe-worthy. 

The Spectacular Now isn’t a spectacular film. It’s a decent film with characters that can be mediocre and irrational at time and some spectacular moments sprinkled throughout. At the beginning of the film, I felt my dislike for it was due to high expectations I set for it and judging it against so many other great indie films like it (see my review of Safety Not Guaranteed for further material on the topic). But as the film progressed, my dislike became rooted in the character’s and their actions and what I would consider a poor depiction of such a vast realm of possibility: young love. There are spectacular moments in the film, a few of which I’ve mentioned, and these are so spectacular it’s almost worth it to watch just for these scenes. But I will say The Spectacular Now is probably not worth rushing out to theaters to see.

The Spectacular Now opens in theaters this Friday, August 2, 2013.

THE RATING: 3 out of 5 

  1. The theater in question is the Landmark Kendall Square Cinema. It is much smaller than most theater’s I’ve been to (I’m estimating around 150 seats) and much flatter (the seats are laid out at a slight incline rather than the steep, stadium-style seating of other theaters). The guy next to me remarked, “I enjoy a smaller theater like this. Fewer people means less chance of getting stuck sitting next to some weirdo.” I would have agreed with him had it not been for the guy sitting on my other side for which I could write a few more paragraphs on. Needless to say, my preference is totally for the bigger theaters because, while there may be more people, there’s also more seats which increases the probability you won’t have to sit next to anyone at all. Note to self: write an article about theater layouts and theater etiquette.