By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

The Spectacular Now is an interesting title. The film actually never makes a spectacle of reality-based teenage drama.  The scenarios in the story have an earthy and honest quality to them as do the characters. Adapting the novel by Tim Tharp, director James Ponsoldt and writers Scott Neustadt and Michael H. Weber may have just created the most authentic and realistic portrait of teenage love, heartbreak and coming of age. The performances of the incredible cast are just the delicious icing on this sweet and moving picture.

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) lives in the moment, rarely thinking about his future.  A senior in high school, he barely makes passing grades and has no immediate plans for college. Sutter lives for alcohol fueled good times, under the delusion that partying equals living life to the fullest. His life begins to change when he meets Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). Aimee is a quiet, shy, but very sweet “good girl” unlike any other that Sutter has dated. The two form a connection instantly and begin dating. Problems develop when Sutter and Aimee discover some of the consequences of the hard partying lifestyle and the reality of growing up begins to hit them.

I was fortunate to attend a special screening of the film with director Ponsoldt in attendance. Following the showing of his movie, Ponsoldt, in his Q & A session, discussed the evolution of the teen movie, referencing the work of  Disney, John Hughes and Larry Clark and how his entry fits into this genre. “I sought a middle between Disney teens dancing in malls and Larry Clark’s teens who smoked crack and rape each other.”

Ponsoldt’s toned down style and simple look of his film makes the drama and comedy of the story feel much more authentic than that of the hyperstylized world of Pretty in Pink.  At the screening, Ponsoldt mentioned, “I made a conscious effort to give the film a timeless quality so that it wouldn’t be distraction years from now.” The well written screenplay by Neustadt and Weber provides the necessary substantive material for Ponsoldt’s perfect setting. Most of the characters are well developed and realized with their humanity ever present. Even the more ideal characters have flaws and make some frustrating mistakes. Audiences will connect with Sutter Keely and will get to know him quite intimately.

I wish I could say the same about Aimee Finecky. The film does reveal her immense heart and her graciousness, but the portrayal feels incomplete.  Actress Shailene Woodley isn’t to blame, as she delivers a beautiful and sublime performance. I just feel that the writers should have given this character her due and developed her more completely. As well as audiences will get to know Sutter, they will not get as well acquainted with Aimee

Woodley definitely won my heart as did Teller who is nothing short of amazing. Teller has a natural charisma and winning personality which makes his turn as the happy-go-lucky Sutter look easy. However, when his character must face some harsh realities in his life and the direction thereof, that is when Teller gets to really show his acting chops and never falters. Both he and Woodley share a natural and lovely chemistry, therefore, credibly portraying a teenage couple in love. The Spectacular Now also can boast some wonderful performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larson, Dayo Okeniyi, Kyle Chandler and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

This year has been a great time for solid, coming of age films. During this summer alone, the movies The Kings of Summer, The Way Way Back and The To Do List have all had their positive impact in the genre, but The Spectacular Now, in my opinion, is the best. I sincerely hope that the director, his writers and the main actors are not forgotten come awards time. The same goes for the ticket buyers. I hope they spend the money and take the time to appreciate one of this year’s greats.

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