Final Rating: 8.9/10
Candy. Sugar. Toothless.
Normal. Typical. Boring.
For a demographic. For a demographic. Stuck in a demographic.
Romantic films, especially catered towards teens, almost always suffer. If they aren’t pandering to teenagers about the bad in the world in very phoned in ways (could we forget A Walk To Remember?), it’s over simplifying the world and making it overly predictable (of course everything will work out, it’s a movie and that’s what movies are about, right?). Romance movies for adults that are good are not as hard to find. The Before series, which had a third installment this year with Before Midnight, is sweet (but not cavity inducing) and stunning. You can then dive into the romantic tragedy category, and we have had a good number of those recently with 2010’s hard hitting Blue Valentine and 2012’s Earth shattering Amore. Even last year, we had Moonrise Kingdom; a very cute, sweet film that was for kids to escape and for adults to reminisce.
The Spectacular Now is the young adult version of Moonrise Kingdom. While the main characters may not escape home, they escape the nagging of their subconscious. This is displayed with some natural, terrific acting by the films two leads. Miles Teller plays Sutter Keely: Your usual high school heart throb that starts the movie off in a familiar fashion. He is stuck in the now, because he fears progression out of his comfort zone, much like teen movies in general. Thus when he is out of his element, it shows. However, it isn’t painful or contrived. His reaction is natural and driven by his chemistry. Part of that chemistry comes from Shailene Woodley’s character Aimee Finicky. She’s the pretty, generous girl that is taken advantage of in high school and is always overlooked. Many adults that are just past the 20 year old mark, of whom may have found themselves in her position, are not spat on with an over the top representation of this character. She isn’t the sex symbol of the generation nor is she obliviously timid and naive. She is well represented by her want to explore what lies ahead as opposed to staying with the world behind her. For those of us that identify with her, we can observe our own situations and ask whether or not we should have enjoyed the moment, or if it was good that we started expanding ourselves mentally and spiritually already.
What Aimee lacks in the common teen experience, she excels in with amicability. What Sutter lacks in breaking out of his comfort zone, he balances with the ability to open others up. Thanks to great writing and superb acting, the scenes of these two characters bonding are simply magical. These are two actors picked for their abilities, and it shows. If there is a slight stumble in the scene, it is worked in instantly, as if it is simply just a piece of the nervous energy in the shot. It is as if these are the moving subtle moments between two people who feel strongly for one another. This is the now we should cherish. Not the boozing or the partying that can happen whenever we want it to in life. Not the need to grow up by following in adult pursuits. That kind of behavior will only set one back more than it will propel one forward. This is the experience that teaches people about life, and it is through the kind direction of James Ponsoldt, who directed last year’s sadly overlooked Smashed, that this film turns into a poetic emotional experience.
The colours are lush and gorgeous, as the shots feel anything but intrusive. The sounds and music are essential and work as a collective of the whole. The acting from the entire cast, including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Bob Odenkirk, and more, surrounds and adds to the lives of the two leads, working as a means of supplying both their perspectives of the people around them and the real situations unaltered. As good happens in this movie, you don’t instantly cheer as much as you gradually feel happy, much like slowly opening up to someone you like. When the sadder moments happen, which avoid being lazily included, you may feel crushed. You aren’t forced to like these characters. You just will, and anything that happens to them will cause a reaction out of you.
Moonrise Kingdom showed the ways children wanted to mature and leave the organized world around them. The Spectacular Now similarly shows youth with the want to escape, but their search for their identities as people is worked in so magnificently. Aimee shoots for the stars and Sutter doesn’t want to leave the way he feels now. Perhaps that’s why he does not deal with his initial break up well, and perhaps it’s why Aimee didn’t mind finding him and opening up to him, despite being ignored by him. It’s also why this movie really works. It’s refreshing in what seemed like a dying genre. It’s sweet for cynical people like myself. It’s realistic for those that try to avoid the truths about life, yet surreal enough to provide you with an escape for the afternoon. It’s a new look at life for a teen audience and one for adults that finally makes us happily remember instead of regret our youths. The two leads in Moonrise Kingdom may have to wait a bit longer to get their careers, but expect Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley to be nominated in their futures. Perhaps not yet, save for the possible golden globe nominations, but when they are older, as their careers are finally getting the boost they deserve. The Spectacular Now is a rush of emotions and a, finally, genuine look at life through the eyes of people who are finally starting to understand their own lives.