The Spectacular Now (2013)
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bob Odenkirk, Kyle Chandler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Synopsis: Miles Teller plays Sutter Keely a laid-back, popular, hipster high school senior who is an alcoholic and has next to zero ambition in life than to have a great time. After getting recently dumped by his girlfriend, he meets a timid and naive girl named Aimee Finecky (who thought of these names?!) and they end up bonding and eventually dating. He helps her stand up to her folks who want to prohibit Aimee from going to college out of state and she encourages Sutter to locate and reconnect with his dead-beat dad. Sutter’s cool-cat persona and lifestyle are put to the test when things start to fall apart and life gets too serious for him. That’s basically it.
What work(s): I saw this film since it got great reviews and the two leads, Teller and Woodley are breaking big in Hollywood. While I think both actors are good and in this film they did a fine job playing seniors in high school, I question what other roles they can do past this point. Teller was just cast as Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four reboot and he will also play Dan Aykroyd in a John Belushi bio-pic, even though he looks more like Belushi. Both of these roles look oh-so-wrong for this baby-faced actor. But anyway, in The Spectacular Now he plays a great cocky and charming slacker with a drinking problem. For most of the running time I was pleased by how much it didn’t veer into too much melodrama like other teen-centric drivel do, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower. There was very little angst and crying done in this film and either that is a good thing or a bad thing depending on your age or maturity level. On the one hand, there were scenes that should’ve had more weight to them but I’m afraid at my age I would’ve probably been annoyed by it. Woodley was good as well but like Teller I just can’t see her excelling in anything other than dramas.
What fail(s): So Sutter is a huge boozer. Drinks in almost every scene. He has his own flask. While this is an interesting conflict in a teen movie it is never ever the conflict for Sutter. It never ruins his life or someone else’s life. In one scene he makes Aimee get out of his car in a heated, emotional row and when she exits the car [SPOILER] she is hit by a passing car. (don’t worry he only breaks an arm even though she was hit extremely hard) Now even though he was drunk at the time of the accident, it wasn’t primarily the cause of the accident—if he crashed his car (which he almost did moments earlier) and hurt her than it would mean more to highlight his drinking. And he never gets in trouble at all with the authorities because he was drunk at the scene of an auto accident or with her parents or his parents because of the accident. In one scene he’s denied entry into a bar to drink but in the very next scene he succeeds (not sure if it was the same bar or not) and has a great time drinking and flirting with chicks. In a scene with his dad and Aimee they are sharing a pitcher or two of beer at a bar in the daytime hours. Now, to put this in better perspective, Miles Teller is 27 years old yet still looks 17. Same for goes for Woodley. The fact that they are served in a bar in the afternoon is ridiculous. In another scene, his boss tells him he can keep his job on the condition that he stops working intoxicated and Sutter flatly tells his boss that he can’t make that promise and quits. Again, where’s the conflict in having a teen alcoholic when the alcohol is not the main plot point of the drama in his life? He carries a flask around with him everywhere he goes! He buys Aimee one after he introduces her to alcohol and both of them drink on the fly together! So you tell me, is the drinking important to the overall story? It would seem so, yet is glossed over completely. That’s just weak story-telling. If you took out the drinking aspect it wouldn’t matter. It would still be a water-downed John Hughes high school movie. Another thing that bothered me was he is failing geometry (first of all I took geometry in Sophomore year—just seems like such a remedial math class to be taking senior year, no?) and his teacher is played by Andre Royo (which I had a hard time forgetting he was Bubbles the junkie informant from The Wire) who tells him he won’t graduate unless he passes his class. Sutter tells him basically that he doesn’t care and walks out. Next scene or so, he’s in a cap and gown looking at the empty folder that would’ve contained a diploma. So I guess he cared a little to even show up despite not even graduating. (Are you even allowed to dress in cap and gown and sit with your class when you’re not eligible for graduating? Seems wrong.)
Overall: I’m an old man. I’ve complained before about the “generation gap” feeling I’ve been experiencing with film lately and this teen-centric movie is of no exception. It started out decent enough with a narrated prologue by Sutter detailing his life at this point while he’s writing a college acceptance essay about his girlfriend and how much fun they have partying, drinking and screwing and how that’s the life for him. Then we realize what a douche and aloof he is for a high school senior. He gives not two shits about his grades or college yet still goes to school until he graduates. Why didn’t he drop out at the legal age of 16 and work his little job like he wanted to. His character is very unbelievable for a teenager. I never met a teenager that not only drinks like a sailor but is so popular and yet so alone. He has one friend in the whole movie but goes to an insane amount of parties. He still conspicuously flirts with his ex-girlfriend and when her new boyfriend confronts Sutter about it, Sutter manages to twist the conversation around so much that he gives the new boyfriend advice on how to be a better boyfriend to her. Where in the world does this magic happen?
But as a film connoisseur, I just expect things in a dramatic movie to happen as they more or less should in real life. Nothing bad happens to Sutter. He didn’t get into college. But he didn’t want to go to college. He abandons Aimee towards the end and she goes off to college and in a short few scenes later he changes his mind and goes to visit her and she smiles when she sees him. Again, what fantasyland is this? If I knew a kid like Sutter, I’d avoid him like the plague. His earlier girlfriend was smart and dumped him because of his drinking and lack of ambition yet she remains friends with him and they almost get back together. She claims that he’ll “always be her best ex-boyfriend.” while this is something hokey that I would imagine a 18 year old to say, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s basically a loser. He does NOTHING in the whole film. He dates the shy and homely Aimee, whoop-de-doo. I, at least, applaud the filmmakers for not going in the clichéd Pygmalion route in Sutter changing her social status at school. But even when he tries to reconnect with his long estranged father who lies to him and brushes him off after making Sutter and Aimee pay for the drinks at the bar, Sutter never really feels the weight of his situation or how lousy his life is. Moments like a father giving a son a very cold shoulder and abandoning him should give Sutter some rage and angst against his father. But sadly, what could’ve been a very decent coming-of-age story about a misguided youth meeting a new love of his life and how his life changes for the better are not there. By the end, Sutter is basically the same lush and misguided fool he was when the movie started. There was no scene where he even flirted with the idea of going sober. He does sit down to finish his college acceptance essay about facing challenges but its way overdue and barely scratches the surface of the issues and conflicts that lay ahead of Sutter’s future (or lack-thereof).
Score: 4 half-filled flasks of teen melodrama (out of 10)