While reviewing Jeff Nichols’ Mud, I mentioned that this has been a big summer for coming-of-age films. Mudand The Way, Way Back remain as some of the year’s best films. However, it remains fitting that they saved the summer’s best coming-of-age film for last. The Spectacular Now is not just a great coming-of-age tale; it’s just a great film in general. Featuring strong direction, a realistic script, and the best casting job since Argo, The Spectacular Now is a film that will remain in your head for a long time after you leave the theater.
The Spectacular Now follows Sutter Keely (Rabbit Hole’s Miles Teller), a charismatic high school senior who just wants to enjoy the most out of the current moment. When he is dumped by his girlfriend (Brie Larson), Sutter, who is constantly drinking, goes on a bender and wakes up with Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) looking over him. Aimee is the nice girl that cool kids like Sutter rarely pay attention to at school, but Sutter suddenly decides to strike up a relationship with her. Whether this decision is due to Sutter wanting to help Aimee or in order to get back into the good graces of his ex-girlfriend, it doesn’t matter because there is not much hope that this will end well. The film is directed by James Ponsoldt (Smashed) and is written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the writing team behind (500) Days of Summer).
Make no mistake. This is a coming-of-age story, but James Ponsoldt and his writers find every way possible to turn the clichés of the coming-of-age genre on its head. This is a masterful spin of a genre, and it is just great to see so many risks being taken. Ponsoldt and company have faith that the audience can sympathize with a protagonist that has many unsympathetic traits, and the film is all the better for that. Until the very end (which ends with a somewhat optimistic final scene that could have betrayed the rest of the film in lesser hands) this is narrative filmmaking at its most realistic, and it is a sight to behold.
The cast is just all-around top-notch too. Miles Teller delivers what will probably be the performance of his life (despite being one of the most promising up and coming actors). It’s a difficult role that needed to be casted perfectly, and Teller handles it like a pro. Teller feels so at home with the role yet still finds vulnerability when he is called to do so. Shailene Woodley may not get the big moments that Teller does but she is a great compliment to Teller, and she is quickly finding a groove as someone who can strike up chemistry with almost anyone. Brie Larson is also quite good in a role that defies clichés at every turn. Meanwhile, Andre Royo, Bob Odenkirk, and (especially) Kyle Chandler do fantastic work in what would have been throwaway roles in lesser films.
The Spectacular Now can best be described by the adjective in its title.