Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Spectacular Now

Directed by James Ponsoldt.
2013. Rated R, 95 minutes.
Miles Teller
Shailene Woodley
Brie Larson
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Kyle Chandler
Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Dayo Okeniyi
Andre Royo
Bob Odenkirk
Kaitlyn Dever


The world is being overrun by movies based on Young Adult novels. If Hollywood is to be believed, there are only three types. The first is a love story between a regular human and some supernatural being. We've had vampires, zombies, werewolves, witches, etc. Second, we have stories of teens working through their differences to overthrow the government in some dystopian future. Yup, I mean The Hunger Games and all of its clones like Divergent, The Maze Runner, etc. Finally, we have the ones that tell us just how hard it is to be a teenager. These are set present day and try mightily to get us reaching for the tissue box as often as possible. These movies require that our protagonist has a severe problem to deal with - either familial strife, a severe sickness, substance abuse, or some combination of all these things. Today's movie, The Spectacular Now resides comfortably within that last category. I'm perfectly okay with this, especially since this group has the best track record in terms of film quality.

Sutter (Teller) is the focal point of our tale. He is a senior in high school. We meet him while he's typing out an essay as part of a college admission application. His writing prompt asks him to describe a time when he had to overcome a challenge. And so, begins our movie. We pick things up just as he's about to be dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy (Larson). Within a day or two, he starts hitting on Aimee (Woodley), who doesn't get much attention from boys. He's clearly just looking for the first thing to trot by, but soon enough, develops real feelings for her and finds himself in a full-blown relationship. All very cool, except he's got some real issues to deal with. Most pressing, or at least the one he's most aware of, is that he hasn't seen his father since he was very little. The one he won't acknowledge is that he's usually drunk.

Okay, let's get all the regular movie reviewer crap out of the way because I seriously need to vent. The performance of Miles Teller in the lead is a good one. I've seen him in a few things. Of those, this is clearly his best work. Shailene Woodley is also good, but not quite as strong as usual. That's hard for me to say since I've become a big fan of her work. The standout is Kyle Chandler as Tommy, Sutter's dad. He doesn't get a ton of screen time, but makes the most of it with a performance that is genuine and unsettling. My only gripe with the cast is that the wonderfully talented Jennifer Jason Leigh is utterly wasted in the mom role. She turns up for a minute or two, then disappears. More on that, later.The pacing is also a plus. Things zip along pretty quickly, but don't feel rushed, until the ending. We'll get back to that, too. Since it moves briskly, The Spectacular Now manages to keep from overstaying its welcome.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I can cut loose.

Sorry, I had to pause to check a few things out. If you're curious, I was just confirming what I already knew. You probably love this movie. 93% on rottentomatoes.com, 82% on metacritic.com, a lofty 7.2 on imdb.com. Even the legendary Roger Ebert gave this four stars in one of the last reviews he ever wrote.


Seems I've found myself on a secluded island. Just so there's no mistaking that fact, this is me, right now...

This movie annoys me to no end. Every person around our protagonist is either a soulless, selfish shell of a human being masquerading as someone of great compassion, or suffering from incurable idiocy. Within five minutes of the start of The Spectacular Now, we can tell Sutter has a serious problem. He is clearly an alcoholic. Within ten minutes, we figure out that just about every other person in the movie knows this, too. The dude ain't trying too hard to hide it, folks. Eventually, we figure out that the alcoholism is possibly hereditary and probably a symptom of his larger issue, the deadbeat dad. My problem is not with him. My problem with all of this is that no one really seems all that concerned that this seventeen year-old gets most of his liquids from the flask he carries around like a good luck charm. Two of the people who pretend to care about him are his mom and his boss down at the men's wear store where he works.

Let's start with the boss. Not only is this guy just pretending to care, he's stupid as all get out. He himself has just been told he has to let go one of the two salesmen working beneath him. I got it. Shit happens. Presumably, he decides to meet with both. Understandably, we only see his meeting with Sutter. He tells Sutter that he wants him to be the one that sticks around. With that declaration, there are strings attached. He wants Sutter to promise not to come to work drunk, anymore. Sutter says he can't make that promise and that's the end of that.


You have a teenage employee, one you obviously see potential in, who comes to work "loaded" every day and you never offer any sort of help? Just ask him to pinky swear not to drink and shove him out the door when he won't, huh? From a business standpoint, I can't imagine this guy is really management material, anyway. We see him laughing and joking with Sutter a couple times before the meeting. This is what you do? Sit around and yuk it up with employees you know are drunk on your time? And the life of the party is the guy you want to keep instead of the reliable, sober person who also works for you.

Mom? Clueless. Sutter comes home late and destroys the mailbox with his car in the process. Mom comes running out to see him stumble from the car, obviously intoxicated. She hugs him and says something to the effect of 'it's okay because your dad is a drunken loser, too.' That's it. Okay, maybe I'm a bit harsh. Saying something in the moment might not be such a good idea, but it must be addressed at some point, right? Apparently not. WTF, Mom! I could go on. In fact, I will for just a moment. Everyone in the movie who expresses any concern about Sutter utterly fails to even attempt helping him. Others take every opportunity to tell him how much he sucks. Suffice it to say I hated these people. All of them.

I don't require my movies to have people that I like. In this case, though, it is necessary. Someone has to step up to the plate and make an honest effort at helping this young man. None do. Every single one of them is either an enabler, or completely turns their back on him. I realize this happens in real life. I'm not being naive. However, the way it happens here doesn't jive with the allegedly happy ending. It all happens way too quickly and, seemingly, without any real effort. We're suddenly told everything is all better and are expected to accept this, no matter how ridiculous the notion. This is why I say the ending is "allegedly" happy. Nothing seems to have been solved, yet is passed off as if it has. It feels more like a happy pocket of time just before it becomes a nightmare.

Click the titles below for more my two cents on more teen angst
(I even like some of them. Promise)

Heather, aka That Film Girl, has watched 30 Best Picture Winners:


  1. Sounds like a bit of a train wreck - I haven't seen it, but I guess I should now, eh? LOL

    1. It really is, at least in my opinion. Most folks seem to love it, so who knows, you might find a new favorite.

  2. You'll have to make some room on that island because I loathed this movie. I watched it because of all the positive word of mouth and couldn't believe as I was watching that even one person would think it was a decent film. I was also appalled at the total, unbelievable indifference to the incredibly obvious alcoholism of the main character. I like Teller but hated him here, in fact the only one I thought gave a decent performance was Kyle Chandler. I can't stand Shailene Woodley, I just don't get the praise at all. She's my least favorite of the new crop of actresses.

    1. I'll gladly make room for someone who is on the right side. I do like Woodley, but this wasn't her best foot forward.

  3. Great review Dell! And thanks again for the link! (though, just so you know, I've actually ranked every winner, not just 30! The link for that is noted on the ranking of the 30!)

  4. Yes, too easy. That's definitely an issue, here.

  5. I definitely agree with Fisti's comment above. I just didn't connect with this film, and maybe it's because I'm a girl? I'm not sure, because I know others who adored it immensely. Great review!

  6. She really is awfully pretty. I've had that before when you don't rate a film and everyone else seems to.

  7. Jeez, man! I felt nothing but warmth and love and nostalgia watching this movie. The only character I found to be indifferent to Sutter's problems was his mother. She was just so vacant and a waste of the talents of Jennifer Jason Leigh. That said, all of the supporting characters worked for me and were totally believable. I turned a blind eye to some of my best friend's addiction problems for years. Likewise, my own father's. That shit happens. This movie is a testament to the small town, budding young addict. Bob Odenkirk's boss character is a guy who obviously cares a great deal for Sutter. He doesn't know how to deal with the situation, especially considering he most likely knows what his home life is like, his distant mother, his absent father. It's also a testament to young love. No movie, for me, has ever treated a teen sex scene with so much love and compassion and realism and awkwardness. I loved loved loved this movie and the way it made me feel. It felt like something I've lived in a small Southern town with friends a year away from rehab and a pretty brunette everybody is just now realizing is pretty.

    1. I totally get that people turn a blind eye to the problems of others. Seen it first hand. My issue is that all of these people did, yet everything was played as if he was miraculously all better without even a hint of how that be possible...other than the power of love, of course. Just can't buy that his boss really cared, either. He liked Sutter, but shoved him out the door pretty quickly when he didn't get the answer he wanted from him. I wanted to like this movie, just couldn't.

  8. I'm glad to finally see someone else who did not like this movie. I had all the same problems you had. And not only did nobody try to help him with his alcoholism, we also had to watch him turn a good, nice girl into an alcoholic as well. Notice that by the end of the movie, even she didn't go anywhere without taking a drink. I really do not understand all the praise for this movie.

    1. So true! I totally forgot to mention how he kept putting drinks in her hand. Ugh.

  9. I'll join you on your island. I felt the performances in this were quite good, but I didn't feel the love for this movie. Much of the teen romance felt cliched to me. I agree that Sutter's alcoholism was never really addressed, and the false "happy" ending irritated me no end. It felt like they gave him a glib epiphany when he finished his college essay, with none of his problems addressed, and for Aimee to go back to him was a big step backwards for her. I didn't hate the movie, but it didn't really work for me.

    1. Exactly. He just types his way to sobriety! Thanks for the company.