Review: The Spectacular Now

Review: The Spectacular Now

Review: The Spectacular Now
August 15
10:35 2013

Preston Barta / Film Critic

Rating: 4.5/5

James Ponsoldt, the exceptional filmmaker who wrote and directed last year’s touching feat “Smashed,” returns and delicately directs one of the year’s finest, “The Spectacular Now.” Ponsoldt assembles a talented ensemble and effortlessly captures the true experience of adolescence that begs to be seen more in a world where most conventional films tend to play it safe.

Based on the novel by Tim Tharp, “The Spectacular Now” follows a self-possessed high school senior named Sutter (Miles Teller) who is content with his life and lives in the impressive delusion of a “spectacular now.” He likes to party. He likes to drink— A LOT, and he has no plans for the future. But after his girlfriend (Brie Larson) dumps him, he meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a shy and studious nice girl with a promising life ahead. While they are far different from one another, somehow, they’re drawn together.

Looking back on the history of coming-of-age films, there have been many great reels that have made it into the cinematic vault. The 80s featured more than a handful of what are now considered cult classics, such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982) and John Hughes flicks like “The Breakfast Club” (1985), which tackled sex, partying and the sheer innocence of being a young adult. The 90s and 2000s brought a whole new wave of high school films, with movies like “American Pie” (1999) and “Mean Girls” (2004) to cherish by mixing more wit into the formula. But today, the design for the genre has been spiced up even more, with filmmakers moving towards authentic representation, especially the writers behind this film.

Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who both penned the 2009 opus “(500) Days of Summer,” go beyond the pages of Tharp’s novel and create an incredible screenplay with flawed yet likable characters that you cannot help but root for. Their attention to detail on dialogue is phenomenal, especially the humorous and appropriately sarcastic exchanges between Teller and Woodley.

While the story may feel like it jumps from place to place at times, it doesn’t dampen the film’s strong force. The performances and the powerfully written scenes all feel genuine and natural, from the moment that Aimee walks into Sutter’s life until the end credits roll across the screen and the theater lights fade up.

Teller and Woodley are simply above the acting talent that is normally seen in these kinds of films. Together or apart, both breathe life into their characters, allowing them a depth that transcends everything that Ponsoldt allows the audience to see. You can feel their pain, their delight and their every sorrow on screen.

While Woodley, who earned an Oscar nomination for her outstanding supporting work in 2011’s “The Descendants,” shines the brightest of the cast and continues to prove that she is a talent to not take your eyes off of, Teller gives an astonishing breakthrough performance.

After a series of misfires, such as last year’s disasterpiece “Project X” and this year’s forgettable college bomb “21 and Over,” I think it’s safe to say that most of us were not expecting too much from Teller. But he proves that he is capable of so much more than what we’ve seen him in previously in “The Spectacular Now.” There are even a few key scenes with him that may cause you to shed a tear or two, especially one scene towards the film’s end involving Sutter’s mother, played by the gifted Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Machinist,” 2004).

So when you’re not watching Matt Damon battling to save humanity in “Elysium” or superheroes beat people to a pulp in “Kick-Ass 2” this weekend, give “The Spectacular Now” your time. It’s a delightfully engaging and poignant tale of love that is both crushing and hopeful— just like life.

“The Spectacular Now” opens at the Angelika Plano Friday.


NTDaily Interviews: James Ponsoldt on directing “The Spectacular Now” from NTDaily on Vimeo.


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