Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brie Larson
I am a sucker for these types of "coming of age" or "growing into adulthood" type movies especially when they actually feature smart characters going through realistic situations. It is that time in your life when you are a senior in high school and you need to come to terms with what your next path in the life will be after you graduate. Sutter Keely (Teller) faces that exact problem as he starts to fill out those infamous college applications. I think we have all had to think about some experience that had a profound affect on our lives and talk about how we overcame such trouble. He starts writing about his recent break-up with the love of his life, Cassidy (Larson). A profanity laced response about a break-up is probably not the best response to a college entrance essay.
Sutter lives in the "now". He is always the life of the party with a big cocktail in his hand. Unfortunately, he typically has one too many cocktais on a reoccuring basis. On one occasion he decides to drive home but plows into the mailbox when he reaches home. After another all-nighter, he is awoken by Aimee Finecky (Woodley) after passing out in the middle of someone's yard. She has more of an innocent nature about her than Sutter does. She has never had a boyfriend, has ambitions for her future, and delivers the daily newspaper to her neighbors even though that is her mom's job. An ease and comfortable report naturally occurs between them in their first enoounter. A romantic adventure follows as these two opposites attract. Sutter is quick to point out that Aimee is "not a rebound."
One of the many reasons why this movie works so well and sets it apart from others in this genre is the very realistic approach and feel it has to telling this story. You will hear about this in almost all of the reviews you read. Director James Ponsoldt executes this natural feeling across the board. You will see very little make-up on Shailene Woodley or Miles Teller. Teller has minor scars on his face and a burn mark on his body. How often do ever see those in a movie unless they are intentional? Normally a decent make-up job would cover them up. He even filmed the movie in his hometown of Athens, Georgia. He wanted it to have that suburban, smaller town feel. Even the sex scene has the awkward feel to it like it would it real life.
I pretty sure that anytime Kyle Chandler pops up in a movie it elevates the movie even more. Even if the movie is already great or he has a bit part, the movie is even better after he graces the screen. Chandler grows some scruff and shaggy hair to play the deadbeat dad to Miles Teller's character. He does not have a lot of screen time, but it is a far different character for him than say Coach Taylor on "Friday Night Lights". I cannot forget to mention that the fantastic Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Sutter's mom. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller shine with every moment they are on-screen. You will recognize her from The Descendants and him from the Footloose remake and Rabbit Hole. There is such an easy flow and natural chemistry between the two of them. The dialogue and sparks seemed to flow so effortlessly I often wonder how much of it was improvised between them or if they stuck pretty closely to the script. I look forward to their future projects. Woodley has quite a bit on her plate right now, and both of them will be appearing in this spring's Divergent.
When I was a teen, I had movies like American Pie, 10 Things I Hate About You, She's All That, and Varsity Blues as the teen movies of my generation. I really enjoyed three of those movies, but they were never like the high school kids and experiences I knew. The Spectacular Now reminds me of last year's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I absolutely loved and adored. Maybe we are reaching a new era of the teen/coming of age/growing into adulthood type movies. Movies with characters that resemble people from your own life. These stories are not centered around the dopey football players, bimbo prom queens, or mean girls nor is it set in some rich California high school. This is one of this little gems of the summer than can easily get overlooked by far too many stupid blockbusters that can clutter up the theaters. Lucky for us, it has fought it's way through and has had a lasting impression on its audience.
RATING: ****1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)