It is so refreshing to watch a film about young people coming into their own (notice that I didn’t say ‘coming of age’) that actually has good (actually, great) writing, a storyline that doesn’t make you cringe, and truly likeable characters that are not reduced to cardboard cutout stereotypes like ‘the pretty dumb, bitchy blonde’ and the ‘straitlaced, brunette, nerdy but actually gorgeous (after the makeover) girl’ and of course, how can we forget the ‘jock who has a heart of gold’.
The last film I watched and reviewed that managed to accomplish this was The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), and while it was a charming film, full of whimsy and some great music, it didn’t quite have the clarity and sensitivity of writing that elevates The Spectacular Now to one of the loveliest films about youth and romance that I’ve seen in a while.
The story is simple enough. Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is an amiable popular kid who dates the lovely golden haired Cassidy (Brie Larson), who is clearly a girl who wants something from her life. Tired of drifting around with the borderline alcoholic Sutter – whose flask is never far from his side, Cassidy dumps him – leaving the boy bewildered but unfazed, convinced he will get her back.
Driving home drunk one day after drowning his sorrows, Sutter ends up passed out on the lawn in front of Aimee Finecky’s (Shailene Woodley) house. Sutter being Sutter invites himself on Aimee’s paper route after figuring out that she needs the help and so begins a little romance, with Aimee slowly falling for Sutter’s goofy charm just as Sutter begins to realise that high school will not last forever and soon, everyone, aside from himself, will be off to college, Aimee and Cassidy included.
The Spectacular Now avoids all the pitfalls of most screenplays that deal with young people interacting with older people. Sutter’s geometry teacher Mr Aster (Andre Royo) while concerned about Sutter failing out of geometry is anything but the annoying self-righteous educator, instead he jokes with Sutter encouraging him with his hipster charm and saying with absolute sincerity that if Sutter fails, then he fails too.
Similarly great as the adults are Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter’s hardworking mom, Sara, who is wry and loving at the same time and clearly overworked. Kyle Chandler (of Friday Night Lights fame) plays Sutter’s estranged, alcoholic and thoughtless dad with pathos in a heartbreaking scene where he asks his teenage son to pick up the tab at a bar.
In fact, every scene in the film will surprise you – taking you in the opposite direction, subtly, from where you think it’s going to go – that is how you write a film about an age old subject and still keep it new and engaging. With the help of Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, clearly two of the most talented young actors around, this film will take you back to when you were young, living in that spectacular now, and it will make you think.