The Spectacular Now

the spectacular_nowDirected by James: Ponsoldt

Writing credits: Scott Neustadter (screenplay) &
Michael H. Weber (screenplay)
Tim Tharp (novel)

Cast

Miles Teller … Sutter
Shailene Woodley … Aimee
Brie Larson … Cassidy
Masam Holden … Ricky
Dayo Okeniyi … Marcus
Kyle Chandler … Tommy
Jennifer Jason Leigh … Sara
Nicci Faires … Tara
Ava London … Bethany
Andre Royo … Mr. Aster
Bob Odenkirk … Dan
Mary Elizabeth Winstead … Holly

 

C+

The film opens with a high school senior, Sutter Keely, in his darkened bedroom sitting at his computer composing an over-due essay required as part of a college application. The question asks him to speak of a hardship that he has faced and how he triumphed over that adversity. The answer he enters describes how his “Idealic life as the charismatic “Life-of-the-party” teen was upset over loosing his hot, equally popular girlfriend Cassidy. The film then flashes back through some quick scenes confirming his lampshade-on-is-head persona that explains why he is always invited to every party, but also why no one takes him very seriously, including Cassidy.

Sutter, decides it’s time for his long-time friend to “Hook-up” with some, or any girl, and uses his ability to obtain alcohol, to win the attention of two attractive fellow students, one of which he places next to his friend before setting them drifting off alone. Sutter returns to his car with the other, as they sit bored waiting for the boat to return, Cassidy confronts Sutter accusing him of cheating and calls off their relationship. The mix up is clear and should be easily rectified, but at next weeks party, instead we find that Cassidy has already moved on; and in her mind, moved-up to a new boyfriend who she explains has direction and we learn is a sport star and serious student.

While the film shows that every kid at every party drinks, Sutter is clearly an alcoholic, a point driven home in every scene by his constant pouring of whiskey from a flask that is never out of reach. He is also a kid that seems to spend a frightening amount of time behind the wheel of a car. Upset over the loss of his golden-girl Cassidy, he drives off and we next see him sleeping on a stranger’s lawn. It is at this point that we meet Aimee, played by Shailene Woodley, who wakes up Sutter to check if he’s alive. While she know his name, it is clear that she travels in a crowd that he has never felt any need to get to know. Aimee explains that she must return to her paper rout, which he does because the funds help pay the family bills, a job her mother is too lazy to do her self. Sutter offers to drive in her car and help, a request he declines till he explains that it will both help her as well as help him find his car that he was too drunk to remember where he left it.

It is clear that Aimee is happy that this popular boy is paying attention to her, and Sutter is trying to convince her that she actually is an attractive girl. Only in Hollywood could Shailene Woodley be cast as the “Plain Jane.” We watch as Sutter falls for the ever shy Aimee, surprising some of his friends in the process. As we would expect, Sutter’s partying is not helping his GPA, and we see him trying to charm a likable math teacher into not failing him. Based on the fact that he is a senior taking what looks like 8th grade math, it is clear that he was never a high achiever. He asks, and Aimee happily accepts the role of tutor, there is nothing subtle about her love for him, but when we see he is still texting Cassidy, we have no doubt that he lacks the same commitment. The Science fiction reading Aimee, accepts his invite to both parties and later prom. The scene where we watch, a condom prepared Aimee loose her virginity to Sutter is not erotic, or funny, it’s at best awkward and seemingly out of character.

Sutter does have a certain charm, and actually seems to care about the people in his life, which is the chief trait that causes us to root for him. WE watch him at his part-time clerk job at a men’s clothing store. The owner Dan, (Bob Odenkirk) appreciates his skill with the customers and tries to overlook his drinking while working, but Sutter rejects his fatherly advice and continues on his downward spiral.

His mother, who works double shifts as a nurse to support him and her, seems unable, or in my opinion unwilling to take the steps appropriate to address a son who is on a path of self-destruction. She is obsessed about keeping him from attempting to contact his long lost father, a man that Sutter believes his mother wrongly cast out of the house and his life. When Sutter confronts his sister, who we see has married a wealthy lawyer, she reluctantly hands over the dad’s phone number. While Sutter is thrilled to reunite with his dad, we watching the screen have no doubt that the reunion will be anything short of a disaster.

With Aimee along for moral support they drive 4 hours to visit the father who smiles and says a few of the right things, clearly embodies every negative, yet non of the positive traits of Sutter. Disappointed, and of course drunk, Sutter again is behind the wheel of his car, with Aimee dutifully by his side. (Spoiler alert) large quantities of whiskey and beer diminish one’s ability to drive safely; so it should be of little surprise when his car crosses the yellow line just avoiding a deadly crash. Aimee, while shaken-up, rather than yell at him for endangering her life, is only concerned with his condition. I know we are suppose to like her and feel she is his savoir, I could not help but find her character to be too weak to save anyone. Based on her amazingly powerful performance in the Descendants, it’s hard not to wish they wrote a part worthy of Shailene Woodley talent. Sutter is so certain that he is unworthy of love that he demands that she get out of his car while telling her that he is no good for her. When she finally does exit the car, she is instantly hit by a speeding car. This results not in her death, but in a broken arm, that seems to heal two scenes later. She of course forgives him, without being asked.

Rather than this being a wake-up call, we watch Sutter slip deeper into the bottle and into depression. Throughout the movie we keep hearing him speak of “Living in the now” and we recognize this moto stems from Sutter’s reluctant to come to terms with his past, and inability to plan for the future. He is a character that is lost.

Aimee has a plan to go to college in Philadelphia where they can share an apartment while Sutter attends community college. On the night when Aimee is set to step on the bus to Philly, we watch Sutter avoid her phone calls.

We return to the opening scene with the same essay question on the screen, only now his answer reflects the self realization that his greatest “Hardship” has been self imposed. That could have, and perhaps should have been the end of the movie, but instead we watch as Sutter surprises Aimee at her college.

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