God damn it! Every time I plan on watching a film that’ll lull me into a sense of brain-dead bliss and won’t employ me to think, I end up with a film like this. I recently experienced this phenomenon when I ran into Fifty Shades Darker. The Spectacular Now and Fifty Shades Darker might be split by a chasm of quality but both films activated my mind to a surprisingly high degree. While Fifty Shades Darker provided contrived and unsexy trite while wasting multiple good opportunities of elevating itself, The Spectacular Now works as a beautiful and poignant portrayal of the slice of life between the end of high school to the start of college.
The Spectacular Now follows the life of Miles Teller’s Sutter as he attempts to “She’s All That” Shailene Woodley’s Aimee (as a rebound girlfriend) but quickly realizes that he is in a film way better than the aforementioned seminal teen romance. This is a story about two Middle American high schoolers that actually feels like a film about two Middle American high schoolers. The overly dramatic/loud high school crowd is near non-existent, judgemental friends are relegated to background players and the main characters are given ample amounts of time to breathe and explore. This is a rarity in modern teen cinema and when this combines with an exceptionally gentle handling of the subject matter, we have a film that most members of the audience will look back on quite fondly, I know I will.
A chance meeting between a hungover Sutter and a newspaper delivering Aimee kicks off a movie long conversation which might prove a worthy rival to the excellent Before trilogy(with breaks). The usual pitfalls of the bitchy ex or man running behind two women only to realize true love has been staring him in the eye all along are cleverly dodged with a very mature set of female characters. All of them understand Sutter’s downward spiral and are willing to help him and themselves in one way or the other. The nonchalant approach the film takes, through the first hour, exploring the many nuances of Sutter and Aimee’s characterizations is a joy to watch.
I had the sense of being a fly on the wall watching their camaraderie bud along the course of the last days of high school. The duo takes a shine to one another and the portrayal of said liking is extremely subdued but never stops being effective. Sutter’s penchant for defusing troublesome situations and his fear of forming a connection combined with Aimee’s single minded dedication and warmth concocts a beautiful relationship in which the characters find themselves organically. I cannot stress how rare that is in modern cinema.
Director James Ponsoldt handles the subject matter deftly. His sensitive touch on the complex thought processes of youth is commendable. The film bullied me into having a soft corner for Sutter and to foster a genuine liking for Aimee. I saw a lot of who I was and still am (to a certain degree) with Sutter. His lack of drive or purpose, his stumbling through life, his fear of failure, the undercurrent of sadness that underlines his very existence, so on and so forth struck a deep chord with me and helped keep my eyes glued to the screen looking for the next paragraph in a very important chapter of his life. Yes, I also do love Aimee’s maturity, caring, self-assured behavior and all that jazz.
The Spectacular Now is a deeply affecting film for a multitude of reasons which do not only begin and end with its characters. While the film has a solitary contrived moment, it does not seem out of line with the characters presented. There is a level of restraint required to not jump the shark when a story like this one is being told. This story does not require bombastic line readings or musical numbers or romantic gestures which envelop a whole neighborhood. It has what it actually needs in spades.
The miniature universe created for Sutter and Aimee is a big enough canvas for a tender story to unfold. A film with no cheap moments and a genuine understanding of the human condition is hard to come by and I need not convince myself too much to absolutely adore something so stunning.