Weekly Watch – ‘The Spectacular Now’
Caelin Miltko | Monday, March 23, 2015
There seems to be a bit of a trope among movies set during senior year of high school where the main character is working on his/her college essays from the beginning to the end of the movie. At the beginning, they attempt to type something, but it quickly becomes clear that they don’t feel they have enough experience to write a good essay. By the end, they’ve undergone some monumental life change that helps them write a killer essay to get them into their dream school.
Now this trope isn’t necessarily new. Movies set in the final year of high school have long made use of the stress of college applications to provide tension and used the college essay to provide an easy and believable mode for self-reflection. Realistically, it even works. Who doesn’t remember wracking their brains for some suitably monumental experience to write about?
“The Spectacular Now” begins and ends with this very trope. The very first scene has the protagonist, Sutter (Miles Teller), attempting to write a college essay. He’s drinking while doing so and soon gives up. The end of the movie returns to this same situation, but Sutter’s experiences with Aimee (Shailene Woodley) have impacted him enough to give him the perfect writing material.
Between these two scenes, Sutter undergoes a number of substantial changes. Aimee appears to be the catalyst for these changes, as she encourages him to speak to his mother and track down his father and eventually motivates him to actually try to leave his hometown after graduation. Teller is admirable in the role, charming, funny and a little bit pathetic — the perfect embodiment of the class clown whom everyone is sure will never make it anywhere.
Woodley is good, though on the surface, the role appears to be simply a less complicated Hazel from “The Fault in Our Stars.” She’s an excellent fit, playing the smart, nice girl who secretly deals with issues that are far larger than she ought to have. Unlike “The Fault in Our Stars,” Woodley’s character is not the center of the plot, and therefore, her storyline is not as developed as it might be.
The largest problem for “The Spectacular Now” is that it attempts to cover too many plot points in a short amount of time. Based on the novel of the same name by Tim Tharp, this issue makes sense. There is too much plot as can be properly covered in the short amount of time allowed by the film, and as such, it often seems certain major issues almost appear out of nowhere.
Still, the relationship between Aimee and Sutter is compelling. Neither character exists solely for the other’s benefit. Rather, it quickly becomes clear that each has an important lesson to learn from the other. Sutter resolutely lives in the now, refusing to seriously consider the future. Aimee relies on her dreams of the future, choosing to use them to cope with the issues she faces in her now.
Proving herself the diligent student she’s made out to be, Aimee manages to adjust to Sutter’s mindset more quickly than he does to her. Still, she doesn’t let go of her dreams for the future, and by the time we see Sutter attempting to write his college essay at the end of the movie, this difference has caused a rather serious rift between the two. But like all good rom-coms, Sutter eventually finds a way through his personal roadblocks.
As a movie interpretation of a YA novel, “The Spectacular Now” is perhaps not quite as good as “The Fault In Our Stars” or “The Perks of Being A Wallflower.” That said, if you’re looking for something that will not leave you in tears like“The Fault In Our Stars” is wont to do, “The Spectacular Now” is perfect for a lazy Saturday night.