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Movie Review: “The Spectacular Now”

Aug 222013
 By , August 22, 2013

The Spectacular Now

“The Spectacular Now” — a film review by Gary Chew

Sutter Keely is the name of a charming high school senior who finds living in that thing called “now” as being totally spectacular. I have a couple of things in common with this fictitious character soon to be seen in a well-grounded, for-teens movie, directed by James Ponsoldt. It’s called the “The Spectacular Now.”

The Spectacular Now

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in “The Spectacular Now.”

Sutter, portrayed by Miles Teller, is a bubbly young man who works in a medium-sized town men’s’ store. The script (written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) has him some place in the anonymous South, while the novel (by Tim Tharp) puts the kid in a town in Oklahoma; the same state in which I was a men’s wear salesmen at 18. Really.

I don’t think I was quite as effervescent as Sutter at 18, and I wasn’t into booze like he is in the movie, but that predilection is approaching as a real issue in Sutter’s future. (By the way, Tharp was born in Henryetta, not far south of my favorite city in Oklahoma, Tulsa.)

Director Ponsoldt seems to have taken on a theme with the last three features he’s done; “Now” being the third. Alcoholism plays a part in all of them. (The other two are “Off the Black” and “Smashed.”

(On another forthcoming film, by the way, Ponsoldt is now in preproduction with “Rodham” — a story about former first lady, New York State U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she was a young lawyer in Arkansas during Watergate.)

The Spectacular Now“The Spectacular Now” is not — I repeat — not a totally downer film, but it bounces around habitual, mirth-filled boozing and doesn’t blink about what kinds of problems might arise when one is compelled to lead a lush life.

The principal actors are really fine. Shailene Woodley, who plays the older daughter of George Clooney’s character in “The Descendants,” returns for another affecting turn. Her character is Aimee. She’s the “nice” girl who is not typical dating material for Sutter.

But Sutter has just been dumped by his current girlfriend, which puts him on a bit of a binge. Sutter awakes one morning from a stupor on the front lawn at Aimee’s house. (It’s a random universe, some say.) Sutter and Aimee begin an innocent relationship, which Sutter is playing by ear. Aimee, after some time, is smitten with Sutter. He’s the life of the party. He also offers her strong libations, which, although she’s not the norm for him, accepts boozing it up a bit, herself. Ms. Woodley also had a good turn playing drunk in a scene in the earlier Clooney picture.

The couple’s relationship turns more intimate with Sutter getting his head flipped around over the obvious fact that Aimee is different. She’s smart, she’s nice, she’s generous, she’s serious but easy-going, and unknowingly cool for a pretty teenage girl who, until Sutter, really hasn’t dated much.

The Spectacular Now

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley.

Sutter’s parents, who’ve long been separated, are brought into the narrative. Their places in the story are fraught with spoilers. Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Greenberg”) and Kyle Chandler (“Zero Dark 30”) play Sutter’s mom and dad.

The film is filled with tender moments and much fun. There’s a love scene between Sutter and Aimee that looks — seems to me — to be realistic, without extensive body exposure for the pair. The movie is straightforward, throughout … without fancy … like: no makeup on the principals most of the time. The “warts” and all are plain to see on their fresh, enthusiastic faces. This isn’t a squeaky clean, spic ‘n’ span Hollywood kind of picture.

The drinking is a quiet festering held mostly at the periphery, even though alcohol imbibed routinely in excess has to be part of the script for the cautionary message it delivers; one that’s a good one for anyone of any age but especially young, heavy drinkers.

Sporting a good deal of “bad” language, “The Spectacular Now” is quite a good film to see anyway. Plan ahead and schedule some time to see it.

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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