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'Spectacular Now' a special treat

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‘The Spectacular Now'

★★★1⁄2

R

Limited release

Pittsburgher movie quiz for yunz

Is 'Birdman' star Michael Keaton the best actor with western Pennsylvania ties? Click here to play the Trib's tongue-in-cheek attempt to find out.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Bill Goodykoontz
Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
 

One of the most satisfying things about watching “The Spectacular Now” is thinking, I've seen this movie before, one that touches on seemingly every aspect of the teen coming-of-age genre.

And then realizing you haven't.

James Ponsoldt's film, and its stars, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, continually take us in unexpected directions, giving the film an unexpected depth. It feels real, its emotions earned. It shies away from the Big Dramatic Moment for the most part, instead doling out little victories and small defeats, which is similar to the way most of us experienced our teen years.

Sutter (Teller) is the smooth-talking kid who has an answer for everything, makes friends easily, seems to be gliding through life. He is reminiscent of John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler in “Say Anything.”

Until he is not. Sutter always has a soft-drink cup with him, and that cup always has booze in it. Beers are always around, since his single mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) works a lot. He doesn't get trashed, at least not too often, but seems to operate at a slight buzz most of the time.

And he's a senior in high school.

Sutter does really tie one on the night his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) breaks up with him. He wakes up in the front yard of a home he doesn't recognize, with Aimee (Woodley) standing above him. He doesn't really know her, but she knows who he is. She doesn't run with the popular crowd. Instead she is quiet, studious and polite.

She helps Sutter find his car, and he asks if she'd like to do something sometime. You think, oh no. The cool kid is going to string along the socially awkward girl and break her heart, just like in all the movies.

But no. Things don't really happen that way. These are two kids who are wounded, in Sutter's case damaged. Aimee has plans: college, a life after that. Sutter lives for the now, the spectacular now. His enjoyment of the moment barely disguises his fear of what the future may hold.

Sutter's drinking is a problem. Aimee is smart enough to know this, but she's also never had a boyfriend. Sutter teaches her to drink, and you want to wring his neck. At times she seems like she's along for what she knows will be a bumpy ride. At others, she is more grounded and focused.

It's important to stress how good Teller and Woodley are here. (Also Kyle Chandler, playing against type in a small but crucial role as Sutter's long-absent father.) These are relatable characters, with recognizable behaviors and characteristics. “The Spectacular Now” is one of those sneaky movies that you enjoy while you're watching, but has depths that reverberate long after you've left the theater.

Bill Goodykoontz is the chief film critic for Gannett.

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