The Spectacular Now is...well..utterly unspectacular.
As in most industries, critics get attached to projects - it happened last year with the less than satisfying Life of Pi and eventually the much better Argo, denying Lincoln its rightful place as the top film of 2012. But when critics get so forcefully behind an unworthy film - like The Spectacular Now - you wonder if you were watching a different movie with the same name. Boring and utterly impractical in certain scenes, it lingers like an unfinished drink that you once liked but have since lost interest.
High school party guy Sutter Keely (Miles Teller, 21 and Over) is fresh off being dumped when he meets the shy and reclusive Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). She's a bookworm, content to fall into Manga and math, but afraid to do more with her life. For her, college is a dream that her current home life won't allow. Sutter sees potential in Aimee, even though his best friend thinks it's more of a rebound/revenge relationship. Soon, the two are sharing sips from Keely's flask and eventually start a relationship. But Sutter is unfulfilled: his hard-working mother (Jennifer Jason-Lee, Road to Perdition) refuses to tell him about his long-lost father (Kyle Chandler, Zero Dark Thirty), while his sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) lives the good life far away from Sutter's troubles. As his drinking begins to spin out of control, Sutter and Aimee must decide if their lives are worth living together, or if the party animal will do anything meaningful with his life.
Teller and Woodley are outstanding here, displaying an odd teenage chemistry that is sadly familiar: one that's too quick to forgive and filled with blind hope and security for their futures. As Finecky and Teller sit down for dinner, she espouses on her dreams, blindly assuming that Teller will be there to join her; Teller is the perfect 'What's so important about school' loser, content to drink his way through the experience. For the first two acts, the two saunter their way through the material like they've been together forever. Part of their appeal lies in Director James Ponsoldt (Smashed), who paints them and the entire movie in familiar gritty brush strokes, with Woodley's freckles and Teller with his Mark Hamill-like car injuries. Early on, their flirtations seem so realistic that we're easily committed to this ride.
Unfortunately, 500 Days of Summer Co-Writers Scott Nuestadter and Michael Weber haven't advanced their understanding of people and the complexity of relationships from that unsettling film, deciding instead on a series of dull and utterly unbelievable situations that demean Teller and Woodley's exceptional performances. It's a case of style over substance, as none of the characters ever seem to grow beyond their limited scope. There's just too much dialogue resulting in too little payoff for the audience, wrapped around several implausible scenarios. When a major character is hit by a truck, they magically survive with a broken arm; meanwhile, the 18-year-old Teller is constantly in a bar, seemingly able to dodge the keenest bouncer. In effect, the changes we're witness to don't feel real in the slightest, which by film's end begin to add up. And when it arrives, there's seemingly no emphasis for our characters to change - especially Sutter - whose downward spiral seemed destined for something darker.
The Spectacular Now could have been the next Breakfast Club, a stinging critique of teen angst and the increasing pressures placed upon our youth. Instead, we're forced into a dull and (pardon the pun) unspectacular cautionary tale that never matches its potential. Critics would have you lining up in droves to see it; I suggest against such foolish behavior. The Spectacular Now is rated R for alcohol use, language and sexuality by teens and has a runtime of 95 minutes.
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