I resisted the praise. Although I am a fan of the coming of age genre, it's getting to the point where I've read too many coming of age novels, seen too many coming of age films, and am too far away from adolescence and Millennial culture to spend my free time watching another film about teenagers.
Also, noticeably, I didn't know any female young adult authors who were praising the film, leading me to wonder whether male authors were using the film more as publicity for the aesthetic of their own books, rather than because the film was well made on its own terms. The book is adapted from a novel by Tim Tharp.
But The Spectacular Now is not over-hyped. Without a doubt, it's one of the best movies I've seen this year and possibly the best example of the genre I've ever seen. Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is an entitled teenage alcoholic underachiever who's just been dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson)?he drinks while working at a men's clothing store from a container about the size of a Big Gulp and he carries his own flask. The more you get to know Miles, however, the more you see he's surprisingly big-hearted and insightful. Miles meets his love interest Aimee Finnecky while passed out on a lawn after a night of heavy drinking.
Aimee is played by Shailene Woodley. I first heard about Woodley while watching The Descendants at Telluride Film Festival, after which she appeared to do a Q&A. Rarely does an It Girl?especially one graduating a show as clunky and tin-eared as The Secret Life of an American Teenager, actually have acting chops. Woodley is the real deal.
Aimee is intelligent and authentic, not a high school outcast, but not one of the popular kids either?she has the same status that most people in high school have. She's a bit of a geek who draws anime characters and the kind of kid who does her mother's paper route for her. Perhaps the only thing that's off in this film is the suggestion that she's not as beautiful as Brie Larson's character.
Miles continues to text Cassie, claiming to his best friend that he's "helping" Aimee out and that he's not leading her on. The latter claim eventually turns into the idea that Aimee will dump him within a month anyway, so it doesn't matter how far their romance goes. Miles lives in the "spectacular now"?an idea we find out he may have gotten from his absentee dad (Kyle Chandler)?he doesn't want to think about the future, or about painful things. You root for him to get it together, while simultaneously thinking that Aimee should get as far away from him as she can.
Unlike most independent movies about teens, there's nothing awkward or bloodless about this film. And happily, unlike the American Pie franchise or movies in the vein of She's All That, this film is never raunchy, precious, or artificial. The sound and cinematography feel right?adolescence as it is, rather than adolescence as adults wish or imagine it to be. The script and acting are tender and smart. This is a must see for fans of good films.
The film is rated "R" and there are definitely parents who would be made uncomfortable by it. But, teenage drinking and sex as portrayed in this film have been very much the reality of teenage life since at least as far back as the '90s. If you're the type of parent who talks to your kid about serious issues, this is absolutely a movie that more thoughtful teenagers, 16 and up, would find moving.
When I saw the film, there were only 10 people in the audience, mostly older couples. It is playing at The Aquarius Theater in Palo Alto and as of this writing, the theater had not finalized whether the film will be playing next weekend. Go now.