Movie Review: “The Spectacular Now”

Based on a book by Tim Tharp of the same name, The Spectacular Now tells the story of Sutter Keely (Miles Teller). He’s the life of every high school party. He has everything he might need: a good job, a decent car, a great girlfriend, and a fabulous flask full of whiskey at all times. In fact, he considers his life here and now to be nothing short of spectacular. His preoccupation with the present – due to an avoidance of his past and blind eye to the future – leaves Sutter trapped in the “spectacular now” in which he spends his time drinking and goofing around. Despite being a full-blown alcoholic at only eighteen, the look is never as depressing on Sutter as it is on older adults. We don’t feel sorry for him because he’s not quite old enough to start feeling sorry for himself.

In fact, Sutter absolutely loves himself and everything about his life. That is, up until his girlfriend dumps him. He misses her, and continues to miss her almost indefinitely, but rather than wallow and be sad about it, he vows to rebound by continuing to be deliberately awesome and have fun. One particularly harrowing night of drunken fun leads him to wake up hungover on a random lawn.

And there is Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), standing over him with a way out.

Sutter and Aimee at the prom

Much of The Spectacular Now follows Sutter and Aimee through their senior year of high school as they connect with one another and deal with their respective family issues. Sutter’s alcoholic father left years ago and his single, working mother refuses to let Sutter even talk to him. Aimee’s mother guilts her into managing her paper route for zero compensation. The two bond over these issues and over time we are all surprised to see their chemistry develop and blossom into something youthful, earnest, and beautiful. Sutter is the most popular kid around, and Aimee is the quiet, unassuming sci-fi nerd with a heart of gold. You really don’t expect them to wind up together, especially when Aimee initially seems to be nothing more than a puzzling rebound for Sutter. But over time, they grow together.

Shailene Woodley’s performance is nothing short of brilliant. The way she’s constantly touching and nudging Sutter or gazing adoringly at him is just great. She knows how to sell young love. Teller offers a comparably earnest portrayal of the conflicted Sutter, but you don’t exactly believe him in the “life of the party” role of a popular kid. The role just doesn’t fit quite right. It’s like if Jesse Eisenberg were to try playing a suave magician. Oh. Wait. Sutter is constantly charming and endearing to his peers and adults in his life. He’s adored, even. But for some reason, I just don’t see it. It doesn’t feel entirely natural on him.

As things get more complex over time, the inevitable, eponymous theme surfaces: that spectacular now. Sutter’s party-hard lifestyle and happy-go-lucky nature are a product of the emotional trauma of his father abandoning him. He turns to laughter and alcohol as a means of escape, not really grappling with his past and never bothering to think about his future. Rather than discover true happiness via carpe diem, Sutter traps himself in a “now” where he’s able to black out the past and ignore the future. When he’s with Aimee long enough to be drawn out of himself and grapple with his deeper issues, it’s hard to say if it does more harm than good. Sutter is no doubt a troubled soul, and whether or not he makes it through his life depends entirely on whether or not he can allow himself to feel loved. Aimee offers that chance for him. Whether or not he takes it is up to him.

In a lot of ways, The Spectacular Now is a beautiful movie. Sutter’s deliberate naivete and undeniable charm are enjoyable. Aimee is nothing short of adorable and pretty much the sweetest thing ever. The only issue that I have is that despite a fair amount of chemistry between Teller and Woodley, I just don’t buy that a guy like Sutter would ever seriously give a girl like Aimee a chance. Even if she is the best thing that could happen to him and one of the few chances he might have at happiness, it’s just a tough bit to swallow in the way it’s executed on the silver screen. Regardless, The Spectacular Now is most definitely worth seeing and is an absolutely delight. Check it out!