“The Spectacular Now,” which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Festival and hit theaters everywhere Aug. 2, is an honest and unapologetic depiction of love on the cusp of adulthood. Based on the book “The Spectacular Now” by Tim Tharp and directed by James Ponsoldt, the film stars Shailene Woodley of Golden Globe-winning “The Descendants” and Miles Teller of “Project X” as teens in their senior year of high school in Atlanta, Georgia.
A budding alcoholic, Sutter Keely (Teller) has no aspirations, preferring to live entirely in his rose-tinted version of “the now.” He relies wholly on his quick wit, charisma and ever-present spiked and supersized Thirst Master cup (the equivalent of a Big Gulp) to get through life. Aimee Finecky (Woodley) couldn’t be more different. With maturity and poise far beyond her years, she shoulders the bulk of her household’s responsibilities, waking up at 5 a.m. every morning to cover her neglectful mother’s paper route. She still manages to radiate insecurity, however, and as she giggles nervously through every other sentence, she couldn’t be further from perennial-cool-guy-Sutter’s radar. But when Aimee discovers Sutter passed out on someone else’s lawn one morning, post-drunken-breakup with his girlfriend, they become unexpected friends.
As Aimee and Sutter’s relationship continues to evolve, none of the nitty-gritty details of teenage romance are spared: Sutter is shown denying his relationship with Aimee to his friends and continuing to flirt with his ex as Aimee falls head-over-heels for him, absolutely glowing with stars in her eyes whenever he throws some attention her way. He goes days without acknowledging her, but when he shows up at her doorstep asking her to attend a family party with him, she accepts him with open arms. Sutter isn’t depicted as merely a one-dimensional high school king. He is given depth as his relationships with his caring, worn-down mother and absent father are revealed. Teller’s seemingly effortless performance of Sutter, revealing more insecurities and concerns about the future than first meet the eye, is magnificent — transcending the norm of basic teenage romance films. Sutter is failing his senior year of high school on purpose, desperate to hang on to his idea of “a spectacular now,” and the more he embraces his relationship with Aimee, the more he realizes he isn’t good enough for her; he’ll end up abandoning her just as his father did him.
As Aimee continues to ignore Sutter’s many flaws and to love him in spite of his many refusals, she becomes the less realistic character — the tragic heroine of the story. Her love for him is unbelievable, both admirable and cringe-worthy, as it continues to ring true and ask for nothing in return, even in the face of devastation. The effect is to transform Aimee into the desirable martyr; the girl that boys want to date and girls want to be. She will do anything for Sutter, puts his needs wholly above her own, never noticing the disservices she does herself in the process. She loves Sutter more than, perhaps, she loves herself, and because of that, it seems that there is nothing that he can say or do to get her to walk away. What results is a relationship fraught with physical and emotional abuse. The film is saved, however, by the honest and believable way in which the relationship is displayed. Sutter and Aimee’s flaws are exposed to the audience, even if they aren’t aware of them themselves.
“The Spectacular Now” paints a bittersweet picture of teenage struggles and love, ending on an inspiring but melancholy note. It leaves audiences to decide whether or not an unlikely love has a chance of surviving in a world where much gets in the way of what is pure. After watching this film, I’d bet that your answer will be yes.