The Spectacular Now: The best coming of age story in the past decade

Published 8:35 am Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Spectacular Now, written by Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter (500 Days of Summer), is hands down one of the best coming-of-age stories of the past decade. In fact, it is very reminiscent of John Hughes’ popular teenage-centered films of the 1980s. The film not only has an all-star cast, but also has a fantastic script and an ending that most wouldn’t expect from most teenage dramedies. While the trailer for this film makes it look like an angst-filled love story, it is actually so much more than that. It is the story of young people, trying to come to terms with their impending future.

Apart from the great cast, what truly makes The Spectacular Now stand out from the rest is that it is an incredibly realistic depiction of what it’s like to be a teenager in today’s world. The look of the movie was right, the situations were right, even the dialogue was right. So much so, that at times, I lost myself in the film. The two leads, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) and Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), are so authentic, it is hard to see them as “movie characters” at all. Aimee, for example, is supposed to be a “plain Jane,” so Woodley barely wears a stitch of makeup throughout the entire movie. When have you seen an actress do that in a film? I cannot stress enough how refreshing this film’s take on adolescence is to someone who has had to endure tons of “teenage” movies that are so far from the truth, it made me wonder if the filmmakers were ever teenagers themselves.

Although the trailer makes it seem like The Spectacular Now is telling the story of Sutter and Aimee’s relationship, it is actually focused more on Sutter Keely’s quest to discover what life has to offer. Played brilliantly by rising star Miles Teller, Sutter is a fast-talking (but charming) high school senior, who lives with his mom after his dad left the family years before. Although he is fairly popular, Sutter is an academic underachiever with his own inner demons (mostly in the form of alcoholism). Early one morning, after partying throughout the night, Sutter is woken up by Aimee Finicky after he passed out drunk on her front lawn. Aimee is also a high school senior, however, she is at the top of the class and seems to have a clear direction for her life. She is not unpopular, but has pretty much flown under the radar throughout high school; no one really even knows her name.

After properly waking up, Sutter realizes that he has no idea where he left his car. So he decides to ride-along with Aimee on her local paper route to look for his missing ride and help her distribute newspapers as a thank you. Of course, the two hit it off almost instantly, and the fact that A-student Aimee begins tutoring him in geometry further brings the couple together. However, this isn’t a romance full of rainbows and butterflies. There is a darkness to this film that starts with Sutter’s alcohol addiction (he takes sips out of flask or Big Gulp cup the entire movie) and ends with a disastrous trip to visit his deadbeat father (Kyle Chandler). Of course the film has its sweet moments, but prepare yourself for some hardship as well.

The romance that develops between Aimee and Sutter is the heart of the movie. However, what I enjoyed most is that the relationship never gets to be too Hollywood sweet. There are no romantic scenes of rowboat rides through rivers full of ducks or moonlit walks on the beach. This couple’s relationship is real and comes at a time when both characters need each other the most; they use one another for support to handle major hang-ups in their own lives. Aimee, for example, has a lot going for her, but has resigned herself to staying in their small town to support her mom. Sutter finds this notion completely unacceptable and helps Aimee realize she is worth more than that. Sutter, on the other hand, needs Aimee’s support to not only settle an overlying issue he has dealing with his father’s abandonment but also to help him see that he has to focus on his future instead of living solely in the “spectacular now.”

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller are two of the best young actors working today. Their performances are what really bring this movie to life. During many of the scenes their dialogue seemed so real, I couldn’t tell if it was improvised or scripted. I remember the first time I saw Teller was in Rabbit Hole (starring Nicole Kidman). He was so fantastic in that film, I kept wondering when I would see him again. Unfortunately, his next big movie was the terrible 21 and Over. Thankfully, with this role in The Spectacular Now, Teller is able to get back to excellent roles and demonstrate that he can lead a movie.

Although Teller was the center of the film, Woodley comes dangerously close to stealing it right from under him. She is good in The Descendants, but is GREAT in this film. The introversion and vulnerability in her performance are hard to pull off, and Woodley does so with ease. These two actors show what we have to look forward to in young Hollywood for the next few years. Plus, I can’t wait to see their chemistry reignited in the upcoming film Divergent, where instead of playing lovers, they will play bitter rivals.

The Spectacular Now is honestly so good, I would be shocked to hear someone say they didn’t like it. Actually, one of the best aspects of the film is that it transcends all age groups. An audience member in their 60s will enjoy The Spectacular Now just as much as someone in their teens, who are going through many of the same problems as the characters. Definitely check out this movie as soon as you can. Believe me, you would be doing yourself a disservice to wait for its release on DVD.

My Review: A+

LAUREN BRADSHAW grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C., and can be reached at