Few films capture being a teenager with exquisite honesty and grace. The Spectacular Now is one of the few.
Sutter and Aimee are not Hollywood teens. They are not obsessed with image, hair, sports, popularity or who they're dating. They are — and this will come as a great shock to those only accustomed to teen horror movies and crass comedies — real people with real problems, leading lives of hardship, awkwardness and angst. They are flawed yet likable, understandable yet infuriating. They are teenagers.
It comes as a great surprise to even them that they start dating. Sutter (Miles Teller) is a popular guy who has a drinking problem, an estranged father (Kyle Chandler) and a workaholic mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who doesn't understand him. Aimee (Shailene Woodley) is a nerd with one friend, who doesn't socialize.
After a night of drinking, he passes out on her lawn. They meet cute when he wakes to her looking at him with an angelic backlight that foretells of her good soul. They bond. He insists to his friend Ricky (Masam Holden) that he doesn't like-her like her, as men are wont to do, and that he will soon be back with his ex, Cassidy (Brie Larson). Ricky sees right through the lie, and rightfully so.
Soon Sutter and Aimee start dating, grow close, make love, and we root for them because they're innately good people who deserve to be happy. While Aimee tries to distance herself from a controlling mother, Sutter attempts to reunite with the father he hasn't seen in years.
It's as if Smashed director James Ponsoldt has tapped into the heartbeat of modern teen angst, deftly observing the issues that afflict today's teenagers and baring them, heart and soul, on the big screen.
Credit also goes to (500) Days of Summer writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (working here from a novel by Tim Tharp) for capturing the cadence and colloquialisms of young adult dialogue, which along with the story offers high school students plenty with which to identify.
The relationship itself likely will make the deepest impact. Love has a way of surfacing in unexpected places, and rest assured no one is more surprised to see Sutter and Aimee together than Sutter and Aimee.
In Sutter, Aimee sees the first guy to show romantic interest in her, and subsequently is her first love. In Aimee, Sutter has a grounded, reliable stability he doesn't think he deserves or wants.
It makes sense for them to be together because we clearly see why they're drawn to one another, and it's not for purely physical reasons. Relationship depth in a high school movie is rarely seen and extremely welcome.
Older audiences will also notice this stark, undeniable truth about The Spectacular Now: Some people's lives peak in high school. Aimee has a bright future ahead of her, but for Sutter, who is neither terribly smart nor ambitious, life probably will not get much better. His "spectacular now" is now.