“Goodbye, I say, goodbye, as I disappear little by little into the middle of the middle of my own spectacular now”
Based on the book by Tim Tharp and starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley The Spectacular Now tells the story of lovable yet hopeless teenage lush Sutter Keely who would rather live in the now than deal with the future. After being dumped by his girlfriend Sutter befriends the timid Aimee Finecky (Woodley), as their relationship develops both Sutter and Aimee find themselves navigating a relationship neither was expecting.
A Sundance darling, this little indie film will blow your mind with its sheer perfection of the quintessential teen coming of age story. Book to film adaptations are sticky territory, book people can be, well, crazy…possessive…obsessive and are always ready to tear an adaptation apart. Navigating the thin line between artistic creativity and fan pleasing can’t be easy, but in the case of The Spectacular Now, director James Ponsoldt and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (the writers behind 500 Days of Summer and the highly anticipated adaptation of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars) totally deliver.
Myles Teller as Sutter Keely
Teller’s Sutter Keely is part Ferris Bueller/part Lucas (from Empire Records) and one hundred percent the Sutter Keely you can’t help but love from the book. As in the book the film version of Sutter maintains all of the depth, charm and vulnerability that make him such a great, full character. Teller’s portrayal is executed with the perfect amount of bravado and feigned immaturity necessary to make the peeling back of Sutter’s many layers that much more potent, especially when the powerless, sad, scared and angry boy is finally revealed. Something of Teller’s performance continually brings to mind James Dean in East of Eden (perhaps slightly less dramatic.) His impotence and fear, hidden behind his cup of whiskey are all the more compelling when you realize how high the stakes become (specifically as his “non-relationship with Aimee matures.)
On a purely superficial note I think when I read the book I imagined Sutter as being unbelievably good looking – now I’m not saying Teller’s a dogface or anything because he’s not – it’s just in my head part of why Sutter could get away with a lot of his behaviour was because he was so good looking people kind of just overlooked his epic failing at life. Obviously this is something I may have projected onto the character myself and therefore has no bearing on Miles Teller’s portrayal. And in fact I really liked Teller as Sutter. He had the perfect mixture of bravado and sheepishness that embodies Sutter. He’s a good ol’ boy, always shaking everything off – I would think that it’s incredibly difficult to portray indifference or ignorance and Teller does it perfectly. Most importantly he’s likeable. The movie would not have worked if you hated Sutter and Myles Teller has so much charisma it would be impossible to hate him in this role.
Shailene Woodley – the face of YA film adaptations
Having not always been the most enthusiastic when it comes to Shailene Woodley (I can’t say I was overly excited when I heard she was cast as Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars) and I won’t lie, this is mostly because I can’t separate her from that God awful Secret Life of the American Teenager show (Oh Molly Ringwald, how could you stoop so low?) It’s quite possible that The Spectacular Now has changed my mind about her because she was quite possibly the best manifestation of Aimee Finecky I could imagine.
Amy’s not a nerd. She’s quiet and a little bashful, but she’s not a nerd. Her mother’s put so much on her that in a lot of ways she doesn’t have time to be a teenager. Which is why she jumps at Sutter’s taking such an active interest her. Also she’s a pleaser – hence the boozin’ and schmoozin’. Woodley picks up on these attributes and exemplifies them beautifully. She’s equal parts charming, goofy and heartbreaking. And even though this is Sutter’s show you can’t help but root for Amy. That comes down to great writing and great acting. Woodley delivers on her end for sure.
Direction and Writing
Like the book it’s based on the film version is wonderfully written, sharp, witty, charming (there’s that word again) and completely relatable. There’s a freshness to this film. The story feels real, honest and earnest without being saccharine. This should excite a lot of people because as I’ve already stated writers Weber and Neustadter wrote the screenplay for The Fault in Our Stars. Okay? Okay.
My only gripe with this film (and this is saying a lot, usually I find myself fighting the urge to eviscerate film adaptations of books, especially those of books I love, and if you’ve been following my blog then you know I love TSN (hmm, that acronym can definitely be misconstrued – I love The Spectacular Now. I’m fairly indifferent to The Sports Network.) I digress. My issue with the film, and it’s a doozy, is that they changed the ending. THEY CHANGED THE FREAKING ENDING. I’m sorry but that’s just sacrilege. Part of what makes the book so good is the ending.
The point was that in the end Sutter really is an addict. He’s an alcoholic, though he wants to change in the end living in the now is more advantageous because he doesn’t have to face the future. He doesn’t have to grow up. He can live in his own spectacular now. Not run off to whatever school Aimee decided to go to and try and make things work. That’s not who Sutter is!
Despite this obvious desecration of one of the best endings in a YA book ever, this movie is wonderful. If anything The Spectacular Now sets the bar pretty high for the new generation of teen films. What Ferris Bueller was to the ’80s, Rushmore was to the ’90s and Mean Girls was to the ’00s The Spectacular Now will be to the ’10s. Despite one minor (MAJOR) change, this is one of those rare movies that manages to elevate the original text – which was amazing to begin with – and bring something new, something more to the story. Really stop reading this review and just go watch it.
Check out the trailer below.