Adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel of the same name by the writing team that gave us (500) Days of Summer and Pink Panther 2, The Spectacular Now is a movie of great moments than never really lives up to the promise of the edgy indie coming of age story it so desperately wants to be. Much like last year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which is a stronger film), the movie rides a group of strong performances to just the right notes at times, but too often it also absent-mindedly gets lost in the melody.
Our story centers around Sutter (Miles Teller), a popular 18 year-old alcholic who begins hanging out with the shy and awkward Aimee (Shailene Woodley, who even without makeup is far too pretty and outgoing for the role) while trying to get over being dumped by his longtime girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson). Despite the cliched pairing of the cool dude with the uncool mousey chick who his friends can’t fathom why he would date (even though she’s the cutest girl in the entire movie), the story eventually takes darker direction (although not nearly soon enough for my tastes).
The Spectacular Now breaks a bit from convention of most odd-couple romances as Sutter continues to pine for Cassidy during the entire length of their relationship, even while giving her new boyfriend (Dayo Okeniyi) sound dating advice, which certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by Aimee. As her first boyfriend Sutter does sweep Aimee off her feet, but the relationship which is based on mutual need and common problems with their respective parents feels far more like of a hook-up of convenience than a great movie love. That’s an interesting choice and certainly not a bad one, at least until the film’s final act where the script needs their relationship to mean more to both characters than it has any real reason to.
The script long foreshadows the trouble of Sutter’s drinking and unwillingness to think about the future, but it takes much too long to delve into the more interesting aspects of the character. Most of the first-half of the film is basic high school date movie fluff that could have easily been paired down. Things begin to come to a head with Sutter’s reunion with his estranged father (Kyle Chandler), Sutter’s realization that although he’s well-liked by the student body at large he’s largely considered a joke, and the increased pressure of expectations of a shared future that Aimee begins to put on her boyfriend.
Although I never bought into the idea of Sutter and Aimee as star-crossed lovers, Woodley and Teller work together to give the pair an awkward but comfortable vibe that certainly helps sell the two as an inexperienced teen couple. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is largely wasted in a small role of Sutter’s sister, although her prescence does allow for one of the movie’s most memorable scenes when Aimee is a little too forthcoming and honest about her troubles while attending a dinner party with Sutter’s family.
Jennifer Jason Leigh puts in a nice performance as Sutter’s overtaxed mother whom he blames for the dissolution of his family. Leigh and Teller have a couple of emotional scenes together as we see their relationship begin to evolve as Sutter’s story takes a darker turn. And although far more one-note in his performance, Chandler is the father Sutter needs to encounter to finally push the film to deal with its more complicated themes.
I’ll give credit to the screenwriters for spending time on Larson’s character and making Cassidy far more than just the pretty ex-girlfriend as she struggles with the break-up as well, but has definite reasons for moving on from Sutter. And I really enjoyed the cameo of Bob Odenkirk as Sutter’s boss who looks at the charming but troubled young man as a son but doesn’t quite know how to show it.
There are going to be people who love this movie. I think The Spectacular Now is certainly worth seeing, but I’m not one of them. Although Woodley doesn’t really fit the character on the page, she certainly breathes life into Aimee on-screen and gives us someone to care about for the first-half of the film (because we certainly aren’t given much reason to care about Sutter during this stretch). A strong ending doesn’t really make up for the wishy-washy first-half of the film leaving us with a flawed, but certainly engaging, film that like its main character never puts in the necessary effort to live up to expectations.