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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Review - The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now (2013)
Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Bob Odenkirk, Kaitlyn Dever, Masam Holden, Dayo Okeniyi, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Kyle Chandler
Directed by James Ponsoldt

In this day and age when teens flock to movies like the Twilight and Divergent series that supposedly tell stories to which they can relate, I can't help but think we're also in the midst of a great era for dramas focused on the regular everyday stories of American youths -- you know, without vampires, werewolves, and dystopian governments.  I may not have loved 2012's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but it was a film I could appreciate for what it brought to the table in its surprisingly dark and somewhat depressing look at teenage angst.  2013 ushered in The Way Way Back which proved to be another solid piece that gave new energy to a coming-of-age tale.  

Towering over both those films, though, is The Spectacular Now, a flick that earned significantly less dough at the box office than either of those aforementioned flicks, but is a gem that absolutely should be seen.  Led by two fantastic performances from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now is a touching look at young love and how early relationships can shape us into the person we grow up to be.  Teller is Sutter Keely, a hard-partying high school senior whose mixture of class clown-ish/cool guy demeanor masks the fact that he can't make it many hours throughout the day without sneaking a drink from his secret flask of alcohol stashed in his pocket.  His girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) has just left him for Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi), the quarterback of the football team and the class president, in the hopes of finding a more serious relationship as she heads off to college.  While this upsets Sutter and certainly was a blow to his esteem, it doesn't stop him from partying even harder in an attempt to find a lady to latch on to even if it's just for a night.

After a night he can't remember, Sutter finds himself sprawled out on some unknown yard, discovered by Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a mousy, smart, yet certainly attractive senior at Sutter's school as she performs her morning paper route.  While the two had maybe seen each other in passing, they definitely belonged to different social cliques.  However, with Sutter woman-less, he sees an opportunity to perhaps make his ex feel a little jealous that he's moved on from her.  Although their relationship begins thanks to a somewhat deviously selfish notion on Sutter's part, he begins to find himself falling for Aimee's simplicity and mild-mannered nature -- the complete opposite of his lifestyle.

Director James Ponsoldt previously directed 2012's Smashed and my complaint about that film was that Ponsoldt didn't allow his camera to linger long enough in certain scenes in order to gain the full emotional impact that the story inherently had going for it.  Ponsoldt has certainly learned his lesson as The Spectacular Now is rather beautiful in its usage of simplistic long takes, taking its time to allow the story to unfold.  There's a naturalness to the dialog that almost languidly and off-the-cuff transpires between leads Teller and Woodley that gives you a sense of improvisation, never feeling forced and creating an incredibly believable world these two characters inhabit.

While I knew Shailene Woodley from her role in The Descendants, Miles Teller was a new face to me -- although I'd apparently seen him before in a film called Rabbit Hole.  What a breath of fresh air Mr. Teller is.  First, it should be mentioned that nearly all of the main actors playing teens here are in their mid-to-early twenties, yet they all believably jumped back into the roles of high schoolers.  That's what took me by surprise first as I found myself checking Teller's age while watching the film to see rather selfishly if I could place him on my Best Younger Actor/Actress list at the 2013 RyMickey Awards.  Second, Teller lands on a perfect mix of smarminess, cockiness, and angst-i-ness for his character of Sutter.  Sutter outwardly seems to have it all, but his constant drinking obviously hides an inner disappointment in himself and Teller captures that wonderfully.  When he finally is able to open up to Aimee, the more mellow side of Sutter rings just as true as the "bad boy" side.

Admittedly, upon her introduction, I was slightly disappointed by the obvious way the filmmakers decided to portray Shailene Woodley's Aimee.  She was given more homely clothes, wore significantly less make-up, and had more tussled hair than Sutter's ex-girlfriend Cassidy.  It just seemed like too obvious a set-up for the audience -- "See!  Aimee is the nice girl!"  However, as the film progressed, I appreciated the fact that Aimee as a character didn't change.  She stayed the down-home, sweet, and calming presence that we first witness from her.  Yes, Sutter opened her eyes to love, but she was strong enough to recognize that she didn't need to change for him.  For some reason, this felt rather refreshing and Woodley's performance was subtle and gentle, lacking a showiness that we so often see.

The script isn't quite flawless -- there's a subplot involving Sutter's estranged father that plays out a little too melodramatically to work with the rest of the film, as an example -- but the relationship between Sutter and Aimee and the camaraderie between the two actors that play those characters more than makes up for it.  The Spectacular Now is one of those under-the-radar films that you may not have heard of, but is absolutely worth seeking out.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

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