Sincere, sensitive, and profoundly affecting, The Spectacular Now is a near-triumph for all involved. A sophomore effort by the three critical talents that drive the film – director, writers, and star – each proves that their breakout successes were no coincidence. It is a tremendous collaboration.
James Ponsoldt, responsible for last year’s simple yet devastating addiction drama Smashed, confirms his unique gift for coaxing great things from unexpected places, and his deft hand ushers you from humour to heartbreak.
Scott Neustadter and Michael C. Weber, who shattered the form of the modern romantic comedy with (500) Days of Summer in 2009, have returned with an even more relatable story this time around. Riddled with painful and messy truths, the script’s dialogue is so attuned to teenage sensibilities that the audience feels like they’re eavesdropping on an authentic high school relationship.
Shailene Woodley, who dazzled critics with her performance as George Clooney’s daughter in Alexander Payne’s overrated The Descendants in 2011, finally has a movie that supports her in every way, and the results are fantastic. Woodley embodies every shy girl in high school whose inner beauty makes her sparkle. Her adorable naivete, her bashful nature, and her sexual hesitations are totally believable, and totally endearing.
If Miles Teller, a virtual newcomer, is less memorable as Sutter Keely, his chemistry with Woodley is undeniable. These are characters we deeply care about, and their performances set up a truly compelling, long-overdue, father-son confrontation. Kyle Chandler continues his transformation post-Friday Night Lights into one of the best character actors with an impeccable choice of roles (Argo, Zero Dark Thirty). The film also boasts Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson, and Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad’s gloriously-sleazebag lawyer Saul Goodman) in effective supporting roles.
A bona fide portrait of a young relationship and one’s first sexual encounter, a terrifying exploration of the bonds of family that are meant to survive but often don’t, a spot-on journey through the most defining stage in life, a message movie about the importance of living in the now, The Spectacular Now is so ambitious and succeeds on so many fronts that it is difficult to deny its achievement. It may not be spectacular, but it is very special indeed.