The Spectacular Now (London Film Festival 2013) Review
I’m wary about calling The Spectacular Now a coming-of-age story because it seems like a reductive term. The film unquestionably part of the genre and doesn’t exactly break new ground, but is more than a typical indie teen love flick. It’s a heartwarming drama obsessed with time – the past, present and future – in an absorbing manner that took me by surprise. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley play the two charming leads, Sutter and Aimee, who begin a romance in the last few months of high school. Sutter is a wisecracking underachiever who’s more interested in drinking from a hidden flask that finishing homework. His volatile dynamic meshes with Aimee, a hardworking student with no boyfriend experience; she’s drawn to his “bad boy” image and willing to put up with his alcoholism. However, the expected storyline doesn’t play out, partly because neither character is the extreme caricature often purported in teen dramas. “I’m just trying to help this girl out,” he initially insists. They gradually fall in love through natural conversation and feel like real people who enjoy each other’s company; the relationship’s evolution thrives on snippets of intimate dialogue and a real pleasure at sharing emotions. James Ponsoldt, as he did in Smashed, again examines alcohol as a ticking timebomb that can damage sour a relationship. Ponsoldt’s just the director, with Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber adapting a novel by Tim Tharp, yet he’s clearly interested in the theme of alcoholism. Sutter’s downfall is inevitable, given the number of times he steers a driving wheel with a flask in his hand. Additional layers appear through Sutter tracking down his absent father (Kyle Chandler), arguing with his exhausted mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and discretely hanging out with ex-girlfriend (Brie Larson). These are all traditional ingredients for an indie love story, and it’s to the film’s credit that the concept of time overshadows every plot turn. Sutter is obsessed with the present (“Live in the now! Embrace that shit!”) and boasts about his indifference towards the future. His ethos clashes with his parents, who both vehemently avoid discussing the past. Completing the Venn diagram, Aimee does whatever her mother tells her, knowing a promising career awaits. In a small space, the pair find emotional solace in that fleeting, intersecting circle. My main issue with Smashed (which I otherwise loved) was its jarring sitcom-y subplot. Fortunately, The Spectacular Now abandons its quirk in the opening sequence. Like the relationship itself, I slowly fell in love with the film and the characters, enough to forgive the predictable twists when they occurred. Okay, it’s hardly groundbreaking, but the actors have the charisma and warmth to evoke the desperation for living the perfect moment, even if it can never happen. The most moving scene is prom night: everyone dances to an Ariel Pink song, except for Sutter and Aimee who watch from their seats. Sutter gushes that these magical minutes are the happiest he’ll ever be and it’s why he only cares for the present. It’s a deeply flawed manifesto – but at that moment, it’s hard to disagree. The Spectacular Now is part of the London Film Festival’s “Love” strand. Screening information can be found here.