"The Spectacular Now" (2013)- Movie Review

Directed by James Ponsoldt
Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
 (based off novel by Tim Tharp)
Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson

‘Delved in Realism’

If you thought the romantic genre had completely resorted to producing glossy and predictable movies, this year’s coming-of-age tale “The Spectacular Now” may change your mind. A deep, wondrously thoughtful film about love, life and self-discovery, it’s refreshingly realistic. Avoiding the severely damaging pitfalls of it’s worn-out genre, not a moment of this romance feels fake. The characters are astonishingly fleshed out, their situations feel genuine, and the story itself doesn’t appear to be staged at all.

In an age where romantic films hardly ever offer these components, and tend to be lousy excuses for grabbing money, “The Spectacular Now” is a once-in-a-blue-moon victory. It’s that rare movie that completely understands it’s subject, and in doing so is heartfelt, moving and surprisingly charming. Similar to a birthday, or an anticipated holiday, this is the sort of movie that just isn’t seen often enough in Hollywood. Even when movie-goers so longingly thirst for such entertainment, they usually end up receiving the opposite: cliched, utterly formulaic offerings from the romance genre. But no worries, here’s a motion picture that acts like a superhero to the rescue. It saves the romantic genre from total devastation, sparking needed energy into an area of movies that seemed to be losing steam.

As much as the concept appears to be a throwaway rehash of coming-of-age movies, “The Spectacular Now” is astonishingly distinguished. Since the year is already filled with these types of films, one wouldn’t exactly have high-pitched expectations for familiar ideas. Quite thankfully, though, that’s not entirely what this romantic-drama offers. While the hard-partying characters and subject of torn relationships might strike memories of other movies, this film isn’t about the surface but rather the soul. Diving deeper into the lives of teens than other entertainment of it’s type, it’s a more intelligent and reflective motion picture than one would come to think.

Centering around the life of a high-school senior, this romantic-caterer is first and foremost a character-oriented picture. Miles Teller stars in the leading role as Sutter, a charming, highly likable youngster with a heart of gold. Fun-loving and extremely out-going, he believes in living each day with a huge smile on his face. He’s also irresistibly friendly, able to spark up conversations when you least expect them. Whilst this charismatic nature garners him popularity among students in school, schoolwork doesn’t seem to be of any value to him as he deems his future unimportant. However, when a simple-minded girl (Shailenne Woodley) enters his life, everything changes for this alcohol-addict who has unrealistic expectations.

Amy (Shailenne Woodley) is pleasantly different from the usual teens in Sutter’s life. She’s innocent, shy and essentially a person who, unlike Sutter, is curious to know what is in store for her in the future. Could people with such utterly contrasting personalities attract? Could they learn from each other’s mistakes, discovering aspects of life they never dreamed of?

These are only some of the questions raised by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, as they craft a ‘growing-up’ tale that’s grounded in reality. Following the marvelous success of their last collaboration “(500) Days of Summer”, “The Spectacular Now” is likewise a trip into real-life situations. Despite the whiff of familiarity given out by the ‘all-too-familiar’ growing up story, it’s designed in a manner that’s rewardingly authentic.

The film truly understands it’s characters, and more importantly the searing challenges faced by teenagers in adolescence years. In modern-day era, we’ve come to label this age group as hard-partying, rebellious highlights in society. “The Spectacular Now”, however, forces the viewer to think about these people beyond such stereotypes. While the main protagonist is undeniably a heavy drinker, with a rebellious streak that drives him to commit illegal acts, there’s astonishing layers to him. Like the rest of the characters, Sutter is the sort of person that could actually exist in real life. He isn’t the black-and-white surface character that the romance genre presents regularly, but out of stark contrast one that’s highly sympathetic.

Thanks to a fantastic performance from newcomer Miles Teller, there’s more this optimistic heartthrob than meets the eye. Teller, perhaps best known for dancing his socks off in 2011’s “Footloose” remake, proves to be an unlikely star here. He’s an absolute marvel to watch. It’s his ‘oozing-with-charisma’ nature as well as joyous screen presence that make Sutter a fascinating, refreshingly out-of-the-ordinary character. Often, performances that stick out the most in your mind, are the ones that surprise you. With this one, Teller accomplishes exactly that and appears to have a bright career ahead of him.

Same goes for Shailene Woodley, who brings indomitable talent to the screen in one of her most impressive roles. Like Teller, she’s yet another star to be unraveled in this field, yet that doesn’t stop her from making herself known as an actress. In a wonderfully controlled performance, what she has under her belt are the inevitable signs of a rising star: distinguished appearance as well as irresistible screen presence. And however difficult of a role this may be due to the character’s unusual innocence, Woodley immerses herself deep into it’s core.

Most enthusiastic praise must be reserved for the director, though, for making magic out of a seemingly ordinary concept. He approaches the subject matter with a certain degree of intelligence as well as carefully composed craft that’s rarely seen in filmmakers nowadays. That he’s merely a newbie to the field of filmmaking makes his guidance here an attention-worthy feat.

Such level-headed direction, blended with subtly engaging music and raw emotion make “The Spectacular Now” one of the best romantic dramas in recent memory. Although the film’s realistic tone abruptly falters once an overtly dramatic scene surfaces it’s second-half, the talent of the cast doesn’t. Enthusiastically plunging you into the lives of relatable people, and demanding you to contemplate the meaning of life itself, it serves as a wake-up reminder that movies can be simple. They can be devoid of stylized glamour, even huge-scale scopes yet still be just as effective. As the late Roger Ebert once mentioned: “it’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it”.

4.5/5 stars

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