I will fully admit that when I saw this on the DVD queue (and also saw that it was available for streaming), I was puzzled because I don’t know what prompted me to put it there. I mean, I remember putting it there and maybe it was because someone recommended it to me or I read about it on a blog post? Anyway, it’s a coming-of-age story about teenagers who are on the verge of graduating high school, so it is in my wheelhouse.
The basic story is that you have Miles Teller playing Sutter, a heavy-drinking party guy who gets terrible grades but doesn’t seem to care because he really is more interested in living in the now (hence the title). At the beginning of the movie, he’s got this hot blonde girlfriend, Cassidy (a pre-Room Brie Larson), but he winds up getting dumped and on the night he gets dumped gets so drunk that he wakes up on the front lawn of a nice, unassuming, kind of nerdy girl named Aimee (Shailene Woodley, who would later re-team with Teller in the Divergent films and have an even bigger breakthrough with The Fault in our Stars). The two of them start hanging out, they fall in love, and then they start reconciling some of the unresolved conflicts in their lives–Aimee’s mom doesn’t want her to go to college in Philadelphia and Sutter’s dad walked out on his family when he was younger.
The film got a lot of praise when it came out in 2013 and Teller was compared to an Eighties-era John Cusack; in fact, the film received a number of comparisons to Say Anything …, which I can see considering that Sutter has that “I don’t want to buy anything, sell anything, or process anything” attitude we see from Lloyd Dobler and Aimee’s smart enough to be a bit of a Diane Court. To the screenwriter and director’s credits, they’re not cheap copies of Lloyd and Diane and both have lives that are way less insecure and don’t have to be disrupted like Diane’s in order to be so (Sutter’s mom, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is a nurse; Aimee’s mom seems to support her family with multiple jobs, including a paper route). Plus Sutter’s constant drinking–which is tipping right onto the verge of full-blown alcoholism–makes him a much darker character than Lloyd ever was. In fact, Brie Larson, in her limited role, does a good job of making Cassidy at first seem like yet another annoying airhead girlfriend who is keeping the nice guy from being with the right girl until you realize that Sutter is the problem.
I don’t want to laud praise on this movie because even though Shailene Woodley is great (and to be fair, she’s been great in everything I’ve seen her in) and Miles Teller gives a good performance, there’s something lacking in the development of each of the characters. Guys like Lloyd Dobler or Jake Ryan or even Blaine from Pretty in Pink may come off as kind of dickish or even total assholes at first, but we get to see something likable quickly enough about them to make us root for them or root for their relationship. Sutter starts off like a total douche and as we get beneath the layers of his personality to see what the core cause of his problems is, we feel sorry for him but aren’t exactly rooting for him. Honestly, I was rooting for him to not take Aimee down with him because while there are incredibly sad scenes in this movie (most of which happen in the last 30 minutes, so I won’t spoil it), I feel like there isn’t enough there for me to go beyond simply feeling bad for him to really caring about him. I mean, there’s only so much character development you can do in 90 minutes, but there’s something superficial about even the most rounded characters in the film.
Critcisms aside, I do appreciate the way that The Spectacular Now does eschew the sheen of a teen flick and also manages to eschew indie movie pretense. The settings, much of the plot, and many, many moments are very realistic, as are the performances.
Buy, Rent, or Skip?