Though the film was embraced by critics and performed fairly well at the box office, it’s hard not to feel that The Spectacular Now was one of the more overlooked films of 2013. For all of its acclaim, it’s a film that was not only ignored at Oscar time but which also rarely seemed to feature much in Oscar speculation. That’s a shame but not particularly surprising. With a few notable exceptions (American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show, Ordinary People, and Juno, for example), films about teenagers are usually ignored by the Academy, even if the film in question is as good as either Easy A or The Spectacular Now.
In fact, I would argue that, along with being one of the best films of 2013, The Spectacular Now is a Say Anything… for my generation.
The Spectacular Now follows two teenagers over the course of their senior year in high school. Sutter Kane (Miles Teller) is one of the most popular kids at school. He’s charming, he’s funny, and — perhaps not surprisingly — he’s also deeply troubled. He’s angry that his father is no longer in his life and he often takes his anger out on his mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh). He works as a salesman at a men’s clothing store where his boss (Bob Odenkirk) is willing to overlook the fact that Sutter often comes into work drunk. Sutter, you see, also happens to have a slight drinking problem that is slowly but surely transforming into full-blown alcoholism.
When Sutter is dumped by his long-time girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), he goes on a drinking binge that only ends with him being woken up on a stranger’s lawn by Aimee (Shailene Woodley). Aimee is one of Sutter’s classmates and is the complete opposite of most of Sutter’s friends. Aimee is shy, doesn’t drink, and prefers to spend her time reading manga.
As you can probably guess, Sutter and Aimee do become a couple. And yes, Sutter does help Aimee come out of her shell and Aimee does help Sutter to start to deal with all of the pain and anger that he attempts to hide. You can probably predict all of that but what you can’t predict is just how likable and believable both Teller and Woodley are as a couple. You believe in their relationship and the film handles it (including the scene where they have sex for the first time) with an unusual amount of sensitivity.
There’s an extended sequence towards the end of the film where Sutter and Aimee finally get to meet Sutter’s father. At first, you want to be as exciting and as optimistic as Sutter is. This is especially true once you discover that his father is being played by Kyle Chandler, who is one of those actors that you just instinctively want to like. Of course, Sutter’s father turns out not to be the hero that Sutter was expecting to meet and it’s simply devastating, for both the viewers and the characters. I’ve always felt that it takes a certain amount of courage for an actor to play a truly bad character. (By bad, I don’t mean evil as much as I mean just the type of fuckup that we’ve all known and by which we’ve all been let down.) Chandler has that courage.
I guess it would be a bit predictable for me to wrap this up by saying The Spectacular Now is a spectacular film. So, instead, I’ll just recommend that you see it.