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Grimes and Rowe Watch a Movie: The Spectacular Now

By Storycarnivores @storycarnivores The Spectacular Now
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Release Date: August 2, 2013 (Limited)
Rated: R

Synopsis: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.” (Via IMDB)

Brian: Ever since the rave reviews of The Spectacular Now came out of Sundance, I’ve been waiting with great anticipation. Shaunta and I’s favorite movie of last year was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and we’re always on the look-out for fresh, contemporary dramas about teenage life. We both loved The Way, Way Back, which came out in July, and we’re both hoping to check out Kings of Summer when it comes to video. But as much as I loved The Way, Way Back, I had even more invested interest in The Spectacular Now. I had a feeling this one was going to have the same kind of dramatic power and comedic timing of Perks. In the end, The Spectacular Now has a lot of great things going from it, most of all two towering, charismatic performances by its two leads, but there was enough to bug me in the movie to keep it from being one of the year’s best.

Shaunta: I was a teenager in the 1980s. That means that I compare movies like The Spectacular Now to movies like The Breakfast Club and Dirty Dancing. Maybe not fair, but it is what it is. I didn’t hate The Spectacular Now, I just wasn’t blown away by it. I always look forward to this kind of movie–the kind that had a major impact on my life when I was younger.  There were some scenes in this movie that were really incredible. The director captured the awkwardness of first sex perfectly and then managed to transfer the awkwardness to the audience, in a good way. But overall, I wanted more.

Brian: Shailene Woodley is on a high right now, following her beautiful breakthrough performance in The Descendents, and with Divergent and The Fault In Our Stars coming in 2014. She’s marvelous in this movie as Amy, so natural to the point that you forget you’re watching someone acting. Miles Teller, in the lead role of Sutter, is equally good. I enjoyed him in the Footloose remake and some other movies, but this film provided his first meaty role, and he runs with it. I loved so many of the quieter scenes, especially a long walk the two share together along a beach, and their first sex scene, which has the perfect mix of desire and total awkwardness. Another thing The Spectacular Now does, which I don’t think I’ve ever noticed in a film before, is not give the main characters make-up of any kind. Every since scene you see all the blemishes, all the pores, of Woodley and Teller, and it gives the movie a tremendous realism.

Shaunta: I agree that showing the characters without a lot of make-up was brilliant. They were like regular kids, and that was refreshing and really cool. What this film lacked though, was consequences. It’s basically about a boy who makes these choices about living only in the now. That basically involves a LOT of drinking–even drinking in bars while in high school, tons of drunk driving. There are nearly no consequences. Even when there is one big one near the end that makes you gasp out loud, it’s not really one. The movie made his-and-her flasks for high school students seem like a cute idea and then didn’t go at all into what it’s really like to be that drunk all the time at 18.  That bugged me.  I enjoyed the movie, though, overall, even if I think that it could have been a little deeper.

Brian: What keeps The Spectacular Now from being one of my favorites of the year is a few misguided choices made toward the end of the movie, as well as a questionable character trait that never gets a proper pay-off. Shaunta and I were talking a lot after the movie about its lack of pay-offs. Sutter has a best friend who pops up for a couple scenes, but nothing really happens with him. The film devotes a lot of time to Sutter’s girlfriend, played by the luminous Brie Larson, but her story fizzles out toward the end and doesn’t seem to have earned all its running time. The most glaring one is that Sutter drinks. All the time. In almost every scene of the movie. Then he gets Amy to drink. All the time. He loses his mind in one scene toward the end, and has a crying scene with his mom (and even chills out in a bar where no one dares ask a boy who obviously looks underage for his ID), but his alcohol addiction never gets any real pay-off; he never gets into any real trouble over his actions. I thought this element of the movie was a missed opportunity. I also thought the film spent too much time in the storyline about his drunk of a father, which is something we’ve seen many times before. And I didn’t find the ending satisfying. It seemed too rush, not giving Sutter enough time to really come to terms with his inner demons and his desire to see Amy again. Overall, there’s a lot good here, though, and I do give it a recommendation, based on the first half, and the terrific performances from its two leads. I can’t wait to see what the screenwriters do for The Fault In Our Stars!

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