I’ll admit something: When I saw the first trailer for The Spectacular Now, I said, “The Spectacular Now is indie film bait with the common trope of self-discovery, coming of age themes, but that’s exactly what I’m attracted to.” After watching the film, I can confirm that I was only half-right. Spoiler alert: The Spectacular Now wowed me in a way I haven’t been wowed in a very long time. Allow me to try to find the words to convey exactly why.
The Spectacular Now
Director: James Ponsoldt
Release Date: August 2nd, 2013 [NY and LA]
Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is the popular class clown that everybody can’t help but like. He’s the life of the party, has an equally popular and awesome girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), and truly embraces living for the now. However, when Cassidy breaks up with him, Sutter’s life begins to change, although not in the way you’d expect. After a long night of drinking, a girl from his class, Aimee (Shailene Woodley), finds him sprawled across a yard on her newspaper route. What began as a budding friendship becomes something more as Sutter’s attempts to essentially mentor and guide Aimee transition into a deeper connection that Sutter might not be able to comprehend.
Behind the jokes and public facade, Sutter has a dark side to his life that can serve as a bit of a warning to audiences. Despite being only 17, Sutter is a budding alcoholic always seen with a flask full of whiskey. The characteristic defines his actions, sure, but the point doesn’t come heavy-handed by director James Ponsoldt (Shamed) or screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ( Days of Summer). The Spectacular Now can be seen as a warning against underage drinking or alcohol dependency, but it never feels like an outright propaganda-filled activist statement. Rather, it’s understated and subtle, or as subtle as it can be every time Sutter takes a drink out of his super-sized “big gulp” or flask.
When Sutter and Aimee get together, and she begins to pick up on his habit, I kept worrying about where it would lead. The tension was never overbearing, but I had the chilling feeling that something would happen, and it wouldn’t be good. It wasn’t too dissimilar from the suspense in horror films, but at least in those films, you know for a fact something’s coming; in an independent drama, you don’t know when, if, or how that “something” would come. This foreboding notion not only helped humanize Sutter and Aimee, but it also makes you actually care for these characters, and what’s more important for a film than an audience empathizing and connecting with them?
There are some common tropes in the film, such as father-son dynamics, popular boy falling for a not-so-popular girl, relationship drama as a narrative crux, and the obvious “coming-of-age” epiphany that characterizes the genre. However, such tropes and cliches are tropes and cliches because they’re taken from real life, and sometimes I forget that. The Spectacular Now featured real characters who, for better or worse, find themselves in these situations because they’re real situations that we have or will find ourselves in.
As I walked out of the theater and reflected over the film, all I could think about was just how right it felt. Sure, I’m biased, because it truly played to my film interests, but it did everything right and what I love in independent dramas. Ponsoldt, Neustadter, and Weber wanted to create a high school film that was devoid of everything that “high school films” have become, reintroducing a level of reality to a film that isn’t reliant on an overbearingly dark drama or sophomoric shenanigans. Honestly, Films like The Spectacular Now truly affirm why I’ve dedicated an extensive period of my life towards covering films.