Sundance 2013: “The Spectacular Now” – Review by MovieManMenzel

Another “Spectacular” film from director James Ponsoldt

Based on the book with the same title, The Spectacular Now tells the story Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a popular high school senior, who always lives life in the now. One day while helping one of his friends “hook-up” with a girl, his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) finds him sitting in the car with another woman and begins to question their relationship. Convinced that Sutter is going nowhere fast, Cassidy decides to dump him and attempts to move on. This is when Sutter begins to interact with the smart and nerdy Aimee (Shailene Woodley) who is honestly just delighted to have someone of the opposite sex interested in her. Together over the next year, Sutter and Aimee begin to learn all there is about growing up, life, and of course, love.

Last year, I named James Ponsoldt’s Smashed my favorite film of year so when I heard that he had another film premiering at Sundance 2013, I was ecstatic. The Spectacular Now in a weird way is almost like the teenage version of Smashed because it tackles a lot of similar issues such as growing up, alcoholism, relationships, and even family issues. This film, however, will be the bigger hit of the two because of the fact that its a film that can be appreciated by both teenagers and adults while I feel that Smashed was definitely a more adult geared filmed that most teenagers probably weren’t able to resonate with.

Ponsoldt during the Q&A after the film mentioned that he read the script and took on the project because he felt like this was one of the most accurate films about teenage life and I completely agree with him. The characters in this film especially Sutter and Aimee are not perfect people but instead flawed individuals. The film presents them in a way that makes them relateable for almost anyone who sees this film. If you don’t connect with these two characters in some way than I am sure you at least know or have known someone who is just like them. These characters are such well written characters because they are dealing with real issues and aren’t just trying to get laid. These characters have layers to them, which is always something that most films about teenagers struggle to address.

Now, there is a lot to say about the film itself but the most important thing to address is simply the two leads played by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley because without these two, I don’t think the film would have been as good as it was. I was a little nervous about Teller being the lead in this film because he starred in last year’s Project X, which I hated with every bone in my body. In this film, however, he was amazing and really gave a terrific performance. I found his portrayal of Sutter to be realistic, honest, and raw. He wasn’t the Hollywood version of the cool kid, but instead was a real character with problems that so many teenagers face.

As for Shailene Woodley, she was equally brilliant. In The Descendents, Woodley plays the cool and rebellious teen but here she is smart, sensitive, and introverted. The way that Woodley handles the character is one that makes her much more realistic because she doesn’t take this role to the extreme by making the character over the top nerdy and unrelatable to shy girls around her age. She presents the character in a way that is more along the lines of a strong intelligent female with a good personality, if you chose to get to know her. Also, it must be stated that Woodley and Teller has terrific on-screen chemistry that make some scenes within the film so emotionally powerful and even caused several audience members to weep like little babies.

James Ponsoldt’s direction and vision was another thing that is worth a mention. What I think he does best as a director is capture actors in a light that make them seem as if they aren’t even acting. You feel watching these characters that they are just being who they are without an actor playing them. There is something to be said when a director can get this great of a performance from his actors so that it seems that they are just being completely natural on-screen. Ponsoldt also has a way with storytelling and his movies never drag and his scenes never go on too long or too short. He always seems to know the perfect amount of time needed for each scene and where to place the camera so the scene is the most effective to both the actors as well as the audience members watching the film.

At the end of the day, The Spectacular Now is a fantastic film about teenage life that is realistic, emotional, and powerful. Woodley and Teller’s on-screen chemistry is flawless and they bring new life to characters that could have easily been generic and conventional. I applaud James Ponsoldt as well as his entire cast for making a realistic teenage film that has both heart and laughs. The Spectacular Now could quite possibly be 2013’s Perks of Being A Wallflower because it is without a doubt one of the most realistic films about teenagers, life, and family that I have seen in quite sometime.

MovieManMenzel’s final rating for The Spectacular Now is a 9 out of 10.

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