By Karl Delossantos
It is rare for a coming-of-age drama to avoid the usual trappings of becoming overly preachy, dramatic and condescending. The genre has become so well defined that we always expect a clumsy and sometimes unintentionally cheesy rom-com. However “The Spectacular Now” avoids all the pitfalls with nuance and grace to deliver a realistic take on the most confusing time in life.
“The Spectacular Now” follows the story of Sutter Keely, a high school teenager who sits down to write his college admissions essay. At first, we see the usual makings of a high school drama. Everything from the outlandish partying montage to the carefree attitude of our protagonist. However, this all changes when we are introduced to Aimee Finecky, the shy and incredibly smart love interest of Sutter. From there, we delve into what is no longer a romantic teen drama, but a full-fledged character study of an abandoned alcoholic 18-year-old.
Miles Teller carries the film with a confidence and realism, which perfectly fits Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s stripped down dialogue. The screenwriters give a simple and often brutally honest take on the anxiety that every teenager feels when the question of the future comes up. We watch as Sutter’s world changes from living in “the now” to the confrontation of a future that he doesn’t know if he can face. This is where Shailene Woodley comes in as the catalyst for a story we may not be expecting. We watch this couple grow and mature while Sutter refuses to grow up.
The film features an impressive supporting cast of Bob Odenkirk, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyle Chandler, all delivering fine performances. However, it is still the two leads that guide the movie to its divisive close. Director James Ponsoldt should also be credited with the films success, as he was able to portray an ordinary reality in such an extraordinary way.
“The Spectacular Now” is much more than a teen drama. It’s a life drama. It makes us face the questions that we don’t want to answer: Who am I and who am I going to become? We are confronted with brutal honesty that is refreshing in a day where films tend to sugarcoat what is real. “The Spectacular Now” is brave, beautiful and clearly one of the best movies of the year.