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.