Last year, I happened to get a ticket for a public screening of director James Pondsolt’s Smashed at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was able to vote in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category. This year, I was able to attend another screening to vote for his latest entry, The Spectacular Now. Smashed was one of my favorites from last year’s festival and it wound up winning the Special Jury Prize (Dramatic). This time, Ponsoldt has teamed up with the writers of another festival fave ((500) Days of Summer), Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, to adapt the novel by Tim Tharp, and bring us one of my favorites from this year’s festival.
Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) fully believes in living in the now as he explains while writing a college admissions letter. He also explains in great detail that he’s just broken up with his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson). He describes them as having been the life of every party. After a night of getting drunk at the bar, Sutter wakes up passed out on the front lawn of another classmate’s house, Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley). Sutter has no idea where he left his car and Aimee is about to head out to cover her mom’s paper route, so she agrees to let him tag along so he can throw papers and look for his car.
After Sutter has lunch with Aimee at school, he realizes that while she may not have a “thing,” and isn’t the most popular girl, he sees something in her he likes, and asks her to tutor him in order to pull off graduation and possibly get through the rebound stage. At home, his mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is loving but always busy with work, his sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is performing the socialite duties of trophy wife, and Sutter is trying to find out the truth as to where his dad (Kyle Chandler) has been half his life. Aimee, of course, begins to fall for Sutter but he can’t accept the fact that he may be falling for her too. Sutter is also dealing with being a teenage alcoholic, something he manages to pass on to Aimee which winds up hurting one of them far worse than the other.
It amazes me just how fantastic Woodley can be. Anyone who’s ever caught an episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager knows that she’s just a good actress on a horrible show. When given the right material and a director who actually cares about the end product, it’s no wonder she comes off as such a surprise in something like The Spectacular Now or The Descendants. At first Teller plays like a low-rent Shia LaBeouf, but finally comes into his own as the film gets more serious in the last third.
Writers Neustadter and Weber clearly know how to write romantic comedies with a fair share of drama between this and (500) Days of Summer and should stick to what they’re good at. There’s even a line towards the end that has to be a reference to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World seeing how it’s delivered with a smile by Envy Adams (Larson) herself and the film also features Ramona Flowers (Winstead). Hopefully, the film wins something at this year’s festival, because The Spectacular Now feels more like The Spectacular Wow, and I can’t wait to see it again.