‘Spectacular Now’ revels in its lack of spectacularness

These two are great together in "The Spectacular Now," which makes "Divergent," in retrospect, seem even more disappointing.

These two are great together in “The Spectacular Now,” which makes “Divergent,” in retrospect, seem even more disappointing.

My wife and I watched The Spectacular Now with our only-a-month-from-being-a-teen daughter. My wife missed the early part of the movie, and, upon sitting down with us for a few minutes, asked me if Sutter (Miles Teller) was “the good time guy.” I nodded, and the two of us mentioned a few names of people from our past who used to “live in the now” like Sutter.

My daughter listened, then said, “I don’t know anyone like that.” My response: “You will.”

The discussion went further than that, but that was the main reason I watched The Spectacular Now with my tween. She’s getting to that age where her social life is going to involve more boy-girl interaction, and not too long from now, she’ll be in high school where some of those interactions will likely involve alcohol. My daughter has always had a pretty good head on her shoulders, so I’m not reacting out of fear. More out of a sense of reality of what is ahead, as well as simultaneously trying to protect her but not send her out into the world unaware of the problems she and her friends could face.

So as a parent, I wholeheartedly recommend this film. It’s an opportunity to open up discussion about some difficult issues – teenage drug use, addiction, co-dependence, etc.

As a film fan, I’d also recommend this flick. I don’t know that it breaks any new ground. It’s well made, with director James Ponsoldt trusting his material and his two leads – the “this guy’s going to be a big leading man someday” performance by Teller and the nuanced acting by Shailene Woodley – to tell the tale, eschewing tear-inducing ballads welling up at just the right time and over-the-top performances that mark other similar films.

Such as Rachel Getting Married. Don’t get me wrong, Anne Hathaway’s turn as the addict Kym whose alcohol problems end up resulting in the untimely death of her brother is solid and maybe her best. But the film is a river of tears, a lake of screaming and oceans of big, emotional – and often uncomfortably public – moments. Rachel Getting Married suffers for it, turning what could have been an interesting meditation on addiction and family dysfunction into a constant blare of grating in service of the Next Big Emotional Moment, a movie which makes it nearly impossible to come away from without any reaction other than mostly being glad that you don’t live next door to Kym and her family.

Spectacular Now feels more real. The relationship between Sutter and Aimee happens almost by accident, just two high school kids who start talking and then find they really like each other. Sutter pursues Aimee while always keeping an eye on his ex, who left him after starting to realize just how much of a mess he truly is. He and his mom fight, but it’s more bickering with undertones of hostility than screaming and raging. When Sutter begins to realize he is an alcoholic douche who his turning out much like his alcoholic douche dad, he pushes away Aimee, blames himself, starting to truly fear what his future holds. Aimee won’t let go, can’t let go, herself the daughter of a dead addict, a girl who loves a guy and can’t see the forest for the trees.

I’m not saying the movie will be a classic by any means, but Spectacular Now ends up being more than the sum of its parts, more mature than many similar efforts, more heart-wrenching because of the viewer’s fondness for all of the characters involved. And for that, I salute it.

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