THE SPECTACULAR NOW: THE REVIEW

Salty Kernel, KATE BRADLEY, heads out to review THE SPECTACULAR NOW, the new film from the guys who wrote (500) DAYS OF SUMMER. I am so keen to see this but thanks for the advice Kate on what not to expect. I just loved the trailer, it made me tingly 🙂 THE SPECTACULAR NOW is out as of this morning and is playing at Dendy and Palace Cinemas – it runs for 95mins and is rated M.

I was very excited when I got the chance to see THE SPECTACULAR NOW, due almost solely to the fact that the screenplay was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the writing duo behind the successful un-romantic comedy (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, a movie which would easily make it to my top 10 films of all time. Having said that, don’t go in expecting to see another (500) DAYS OF SUMMER – it’s the mistake I made and it almost ruined the film for me. THE SPECTACULAR NOW lacks the punch of its predecessor. Instead, Neustadter and Weber, who are also credited as Executive Producers on the film, offer a slow-burning but still utterly charming coming-of-age story you’ve probably never seen before.

 

The Spectacular Now, The Spectacular Now Review, Kate Bradley, Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, Tim Tharp, James Ponsoldt
THE SPECTACULAR NOW: THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

Meet Sutter Keely – high school senior and self-proclaimed “life of every party”, Sutter lives in the moment. He is perfectly satisfied with his life in its current state and argues there’s no future beyond that worth striving for or even thinking about. After being broken up with by his girlfriend, Sutter goes on a bender and wakes up the next morning on a stranger’s lawn to find a concerned figure standing over him. This is Aimee Finecky, a timid and sweet “nice girl” who has flown under Sutter’s radar at high school. Sutter’s natural charisma draws Aimee in and what we suspect begins as a rebound for Sutter slowly and truthfully turns into a life-changing relationship.

This could easily be the plot of one of those typical teen movies – cool guy meets shy girl, cool guy takes off shy girl’s glasses and learns something about himself. However, having been brought up on the teen movies of the 90s, to say THE SPECTACULAR NOW is a breath of fresh air is an understatement – this is anything but typical.

For one thing, Sutter is an unusual protagonist for a teen flick. Played effortlessly by Miles Teller, Sutter is not a Hollywood hunk, nor is he always charming the pants off everyone. In fact, he’s a budding alcoholic and some of the choices Sutter makes in the earlier parts of the film make him downright dislikeable. This is part of the film’s honesty – he is a teenager making mistakes. This is true adolescence in all its blemished-faced glory.

 

The Spectacular Now, The Spectacular Now Review, Kate Bradley, Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, Tim Tharp, James Ponsoldt
THE SPECTACULAR NOW: THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

The characters are well drawn and flawed, and those flaws are celebrated both by the screenwriters and the actors who play them. The cast is exceptional, right down to the smallest part with only a handful of lines, each playing an important role in Sutter’s journey.

Sutter’s love interest, Aimee, is played by Shailene Woodley, who some may recognise from THE DESCENDANTS where she played George Clooney’s antagonistic daughter.  Her portrayal of Aimee is a far cry from that previous performance – she is sweet, smart and awkward. She adores Sutter when others think of him as a joke, and yet at no point did I consider Aimee weak. Woodley has made a strong character out of Aimee whose relentless faith in Sutter is overwhelming to him.

The scenes between Sutter and Aimee are beautiful.  Grounded performances paired with the candid dialogue style of Neustadter and Weber create some achingly realistic moments between the young couple. Don’t be surprised if you experience a bit of deja vu in the cinema, just enjoy the sensation of this movie getting under your skin.

 

The Spectacular Now, The Spectacular Now Review, Kate Bradley, Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, Tim Tharp, James Ponsoldt
THE SPECTACULAR NOW: THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

Director James Ponsoldt did a great job leading a group of very talented cast and crew. The cinematography is also worth a mention; it’s nuanced and was visually interesting without distracting from the story. I was interested to learn that the Cinematographer for this film, Jess Hall, was also the Director of Photography for HOT FUZZ, a film I remember as being very visually dynamic. Jess Hall might be a name to look out for in future, I think.

The only thing I can fault about this film is the story, and only in that it is probably better suited to a novel than a film. Hardly surprising when you consider THE SPECTACULAR NOW is based on a book of the same name written by Tim Tharp. There were brief moments of subtext that you may have missed if you blinked, which I suspect were explored with some detail in the book and were probably cut down for time in the film. For example, Sutter’s relationship with his pseudo father figure, his boss, Dan, felt skimmed over, especially when you learn the effect Sutter’s real father’s absence has had on his life. However, the moments are there and the viewer can fill in gravitas for themselves.

 

The Spectacular Now, The Spectacular Now Review, Kate Bradley, Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, Tim Tharp, James Ponsoldt
THE SPECTACULAR NOW: THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

Like in a novel, the story meanders and, unlike in most films where the protagonist has a goal, a driving force to get us to the finale, Sutter has no goal next to no motivation to get out of the situation he is currently in. Yet, weirdly, it works. These deviations from the norm might make the film feel slow for some viewers. For others, the pace will allow them to soak up the bittersweet moments of teen romance and heartache, and the reluctant realisation that you should probably grow up some day. At any rate, I’ve asked Santa for the book this Christmas so I can spend some more time with Sutter and Aimee over my summer holiday.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW has already enjoyed success as a darling of the independent film scene, winning awards from the Sundance Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival and Dead Centre Film Festival, unanimously praised for its realistic portrayal of teenage life, and justifiably so.  I hope it enjoys similar success in Australia when it opens on the 5th of December.

 

4 Pops