Movie review: ‘The Spectacular Now’

ltoppman@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 20, 2013 

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley in 'The Spectacular Now.'

  • REVIEW ‘The Spectacular Now’

    * * *  1/2

    Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler

    Rated: R for alcohol use, language and some sexuality – all involving teens

    Running time: 1:35

This truthful depiction of a struggling high school couple should appeal to all audiences.

Surely the title of “The Spectacular Now” is doubly ironic. Sutter Keely has a decidedly unspectacular “now” as a high school senior: He’s close to failing, he turns up sloshed for his job in a clothing store, he can’t relate to his hard-working single mom, and his glamorous girlfriend has abandoned him. And as he wises up under the attention of quiet classmate Aimee Finecky, he learns to live always in the giddy present, but to find something lasting that may lead to spectacular joy.

Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber produced a similarly honest romantic drama in “500 Days of Summer.”

This adaptation of Tim Tharp’s 2008 novel trims some of the characters – Sutter no longer has a stepfather – but concentrates on the essence of the book: the awkward romance between Sutter and Aimee, who discovers her drunken classmate lying on someone’s front lawn as she delivers newspapers one morning.

Sutter (Miles Teller) sees in her a potential geometry tutor, a patient listener and a relief from the party girls he’s dated. Aimee (Shailene Woodley) sees in him the first boy who’s ever asked her about herself, a popular guy whose attention to her is flattering and maybe a person whose hidden potential can emerge over a long-term relationship.

A better understanding of Sutter’s mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a touching encounter with his long-absent dad (Kyle Chandler) show him the future he wants to avoid: He doesn’t want to turn into this shadow of a man who can’t bear to spend time with his son.

Sutter and Aimee’s journey together, from their first murmured confidences to a fumbling sexual encounter, has an honesty few movies achieve these days.

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