The screenwriting team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who are best known for writing (500) Days of Summer, has now added The Spectacular Now, a novel written by Tim Tharp, to their resume. The movie features performances by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley along with Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Brie Larson.
High school funny man and resident party animal, Sutter Keely (Teller) has found himself without the love of his young life after his girlfriend Cassidy (Larson) decides she is looking for more than what he has to offer. Even while seemingly down and out, Sutter manages to hold to his live in the moment mantra and continues to not take anything seriously including school work, family, friends, and his own well being.
Aimee Finicky (Woodley), self professed nerd and social outcast, wakes up one morning to find Sutter Keely passed out on her neighbors lawn while she is handling her mother's paper route job. After helping him regain consciousness, he decides to help her finish the route if for nothing else than to try and find his car which should be somewhere in the area. The two unlikely companions end up hitting it off even though Sutter still have feeling for Cassidy and refuses to treat anything or anyone with more than a passing bit of attention. Aimee, on the other hand, quickly falls for the charming young man and somehow manages to maneuver them into an official dating relationship.
As their relationship continues to blossom, Sutter is also hit with some harsh realities about his own life, his family, and the school work he has been neglecting for far too long. Obsessed with reaching out to his estranged father, he ends up going down a path that threatens to change everything he has ever believed in and could threaten to tear apart everything he holds dear. Even as Aimee almost blindly holds true to her feelings for Sutter, their relationship is put to the ultimate test as the two young adults begin to realize some of the harsh realities that await each of them as they enter the next phase of their lives.
Going back to the previous mention of (500) Days of Summer, which to me was a very frustrating movie and I absolutely despised Zooey Deschanel's character, I was a little skeptical this movie might go down a similar path since it was written by the same people. Fortunately, I don't hold such strong negative feelings towards any of the characters in this movie although I am not a fan of a lot of the decisions the two main figures end up making so there is an almost equal amount of frustration. I was also very much reminded of Like Crazy, a movie that attempted to portray real people making real choices although I felt it was just a very bad movie about people constantly making really poor choices and unfortunately, both Sutter and Aimee seem to suffer from that same problem.
Sure, this bit of film making is supposed to be a glimpse into the lives of two young people as they struggle with understanding and coming to terms with just about every emotion that comes their way, but there also needs to be just a little bit of Hollywood thrown in for the sake of entertaining the audience. This is where a lot of people will disagree with me as they may not mind sitting through the harsh reality of stories like this. For my part, I go to the movies to get away from that kind of blunt realism and, while I'm not looking for a story like this to be glossed over with a paint by numbers happy ending complete with a fireworks-laden song and dance number, I would like to still be able to enjoy the escapism that a cinematic experience is supposed to provide.
Before I spend too much time on what I didn't like about this movie, I very much want you to know that there are more than a few moments during the story that will just capture your heart and make you just want to hug these two kids for how awesome they can be. When I say that I mean both of the actors themselves (Teller and Woodley) as well as the characters they play. There is one scene in particular where the director, James Ponsoldt, utilizes the extended take technique, which I absolutely love by the way, to show a very pivotal moment that captures Aimee and Sutter getting to know each other in a very natural and beautiful way.
These wonderful moments and heartfelt performances are what makes The Spectacular Now worth watching even if it can also be a predictable and frustrating story to sit through. As I'm writing these final words, I'm still not entirely convinced of whether I actually liked the movie or not, but I suppose that is the point of what a picture like this is all about. Go see it and find out for yourself what I mean.