The Spectacular Now
Directed by James Ponsoldt
The screenwriting tandem of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber successfully deconstructed the classic boy-meets-girl narrative in their debut film, (500) Days of Summer. So it's disappointing that their latest offering, The Spectacular Now, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year, indulges in romantic cliches to tell the same tired high school love story we've seen countless times before. Only here you get an insufferable main character and a lot more drinking.
Sutter Keely (played by Miles Teller with frat-boy bravado) is a high school senior with no future plans because he prefers to live in "the spectacular now." His only worries in life are finding the next buzz and getting meek best friend Ricky (Masam Holden) laid.
Then there's Aimee Fineky (Shailene Woodley), the nerdy girl who dreams of going to college but who can't stand up to her controlling mother. Opposites attract, so it goes, and the two engage in a tumultuous, albeit formulaic, romance.
Director James Ponsoldt wastes Woodley-who gained critical attention for her performance in 2011's The Descendants-as Aimee, a bland cocktail of pixie dream girl and virginal nerd traits; most of her story happens off-screen, and she primarily acts as an agent for Sutter's self-realization. So do the other supporting characters. None of them feel like real people, only serving as narrative checkpoints. Best friend Ricky acts as an external conscience, a geometry teacher (Andre Royo) is a spirit guide of sorts, and Sutter's estranged alcoholic father (Kyle Chandler) is the glaring image of his future self.
The screenwriters, and Ponsoldt, coddle Sutter. They're not afraid to show him treat women like doormats or endanger the lives of others because those things are supposed to make him feel like an authentic teenager. There are never any consequences for him. When Sutter puts Aimee in harm's way during the film's climax, Ponsoldt zooms in on him and shows us how he feels about what happens. Three scenes later, she is straddling him, consoling him for a failing grade in geometry. It's hard to empathize with a character that has abandonment and identity issues when the filmmakers make him the center of the universe.
The film ends with a John Cusack victory lap for Sutter. In the last shot, the focus finally shifts away from him, but that's only because the filmmakers now put the burden on Aimee to decide whether our tragic hero has earned redemption. This wannabe fresh and insightful take on the coming-of-age story speaks to only one universal truth: that things somehow always work out for reckless, self-involved assholes like Sutter Keely.