What a sorry excuse for a summer movie! No car chases! No Computer Graphic Images! Not even any Super Heroes trying to save the world from horrible villains! Just a simple, important, well-written story, told unflinchingly through superb acting and knowing direction.
"The Spectacular Now" is the story of Sutter and Aimee, two high school seniors as they approach graduation. Sutter is the life of the party, quick humor to distance himself from anything serious . . . including both the past and the future. His pretense is to live only in the present, enjoying parties, girlfriends and a never-ending stream of alcohol. But we come to realize that this presentism not only shields him from feeling and understanding, but forecloses a meaningful future.
After his girlfriend dumps him, Sutter falls into a relationship with Aimee. At first, he views her as a situational fling. With time, he is seduced, as we are, by her openness, warmth and sincerity. She seems to stay with him because he offers a social spark that she misses. But the alcohol fueled socializing, clearly threatens her future college plans.
The film is driven by outstanding performances by two fine emerging young actors: Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. Teller embodies Sutter, seemingly carefree, living only in today. He makes no plans beyond high school. Why should he? He parties constantly, has a small job and lives at home. Teller's Sutter occupies a teenage niche between Jonah Hill's humor-seasoned self realizations in "Superbad" and John Cusack's iconic, purposeful, wise beyond his years Lloyd Dobler in "Say Anything." In many ways, Teller is the anti-Cusack, without the strength of character that makes us root for Cusack's everyman. Instead, Teller's character uses bonhomie to distance the world around him, carefully keeping it at arms length for as long as he can. Friends, family, teachers and lovers are all kept at a safe distance from core feelings. He slides from person to person without allowing himself to be touched.
Woodley builds on the promise of her strong, Academy nominated role in "The Descendants." She fills the screen with sincerity. Her charm doesn't protect her from the need for Sutter, however. Maybe she also sees his generosity and friendliness as the foundations of the man buried by the child. Although we trust her open face and easy smile, Woodley shows us how her character's sweetness shouldn't be mistaken for wisdom as she threatens to follow Sutter down the cul-de-sac.
The world of Sutter and Aimee seamlessly travels from Tim Tharp's National Book Award Finalist to the screen under the sure hand of James Ponsoldt's direction. Because he himself is also a writer ("Smashed," 2012; "Off the Black," 2006; "Junebug and Hurricane," 2004), Ponsoldt has his talented cast reflect Tharp's perfect pitches and predicaments. Although it seems the perfect now, we can only hope for more from these very talented individuals.
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