I suppose James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now concludes the year’s unofficial (and unintentional) “coming-of-age” trilogy. Rather neatly, we started off with early teens (The Way, Way Back), moved into mid-teens (The Kings of Summer), and now end with late teens in The Spectacular Now. It is also the most critically lauded of the three, but the best I can say is that I liked it all right. All in all, it feels to me like a much less stylish variation on last year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower — with a less interesting soundtrack, less appealing characters and a less compelling script. Bear in mind, the more mundane quality of The Spectacular Now is considered a plus by some, because it makes a more “realistic” film. That is not a viewpoint I share — in part because I don’t find the film particularly realistic — which is why I’m in the minority here. It’s an OK movie for its kind, but it’s a long way from great.
When all is said and done, this is a somewhat soapy teen romance between a cool boy, Sutter (Miles Teller), and a very uncool “good girl,” Aimee (Shailene Woodley). They “meet cute” when she discovers him passed out on a lawn while doing her mother’s paper route. Since he’s just broken up with his girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), he’s vaguely interested in Aimee in a rebound kind of way — despite the fact that he hasn’t even noticed her prior to this meeting. It plays out pretty much as you’d expect, though the performers make it feel a bit more interesting than it is. The problem — or one of the problems — is that the characters aren’t especially deep or even interesting. Sutter’s drinking (into which he initiates Aimee) is an issue that’s not fully developed and is too easily dealt with. (That’s particularly surprising considering the brutal honesty of the director’s previous film on alcoholism, Smashed.) Dragging in a pretty hoary set of “daddy issues” seems more like a plot device than anything else.
The film is at its best when the characters do the least talking. (The dialogue-free ending is the best thing in the movie, even if it leans heavily on two better pictures that have to remain nameless to avoid giving it away.) Unfortunately, the two main characters talk a lot. Whether they say anything worth hearing is a personal call. (That they could both use some diction lessons is not.) I wasn’t exactly blown away by their conversations, but others have been, so your feelings may well not mirror mine. Does the awkwardly banal dialogue make it all “real”? I didn’t think so, but that may stem from my inability to get past the feeling that the story itself is neither all that realistic nor compelling. Part of the reason for that — possibly the largest part — is that the duo pretty much are the film. There’s a shortage of other characters and little sense of the society in which they exist. Maybe I’m missing something, but I found The Spectacular Now a good bit shy of spectacular. Rated R for teen alcohol use, language and some sexuality.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas