Director: James Ponsoldt
Writer: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber; based on The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
Cinematographer: Jess Hall
Producer: Tom McNulty, Shawn Levy, Michelle Krumm, and Andrew Lauren
by Jon Cvack
Miles Teller skates a fine line between a gawky dork and an absolute douchebag in most of his roles, though always feeling like your cool and charming buddy from high school. Whiplash portrays the former while the Spectacular Now is the finest example yet of the latter. It follows Sutter Keely as an alcoholic high school senior who’s dating one of the hottest girls in school, Cassidy Roy (Brie Larson). When Cassidy breaks up with Sutter, he recounts the story via his college admissions essay and how he went on to meet his next love, Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley).
After a night of heavy drinking, he and Cassidy get into another fight which officially ends things. Sutter dives further into the hard stuff before Aimee wakes him up the next day on a stranger’s lawn, making the rounds on her paper route to help her mother out. I’m sure Woodley didn’t completely forego make-up, but it’s as close to anything I’ve seen; allowing her natural beauty to create her character’s appeal. Counter to his life of excess, Sutter’s drawn to her authenticity and asks to see her again.
An interesting touch during the first third is seeing Sutter constantly walking around with a 24 ounce styrofoam cup that he’s constantly sipping out; which for anyone with a similar friend, we know is likely spiked. Director James Ponsoldt never reveals this until well past the thirty minute point, where Sutter pours his flask in and we realize how severe his problem is.
Sutter attempts to balance his burgeoning attraction to Aimee with an inability to fully break things off with Cassidy. He invites Aimee to a party at the river, knowing that Cassidy would be there, seeing him with his new girlfriend as she ended up with the captain of the football team. The ploy works and while Cassidy doesn’t stay long, it’s just enough to make her jealous.
At the same party, Sutter pulls out his flask, offering some to Aimee who reluctantly accepts before then admitting that she’s not going to college because she has to help mom. Feeling buzzed, we then move into what’s becoming the “thoughts and prayers” of the teenage romantic comedy as Sutter tells her to shout out a cathartic “Fuck you, mom” which she of course takes a few times of progressively letting to before finally nailing the energy. I have no idea how people can still write scenes like this unironically.
From here the film takes kind of a bummer turn, as we realize that Sutter is not just a kid who likes to drink, but a severe alcoholic. Taking his own advice he gave to Aimee about college, he contacts his estranged father who invites them over. We find it to be one of the weirdest pieces of casting I’ve ever seen in recent years in having Kyle Chandler play the role of his father; aka the most charming and loving man in the world attempting to play a deadbeat. It’s not bad, but it’s difficult to buy until his cameo is over. Sutter learns that his dad is an alcoholic like him and left because he didn’t want to be a father. Plain and simple.
Sutter keeps drinking and takes his anger out on Aimee, soon kicking her out of his car on the shoulder of a highway where she gets out and is hit by a car; ending up in the hospital. Concerned he’s a terrible influence, Sutter distances himself. He ends up going to his graduation ceremony, but we later learn it was as a courtesy. He failed his senior year and will have to go to summer school. He’s then provided an ultimatum at work, between keeping his job and stop drinking or face termination. He chooses termination. He tops it off by going to a bar trying to get laid instead of visiting Aimee at the bus station to see her off. He gets wasted and crashes into his mom’s mailbox, later breaking down in front of her who comforts him.
It then cuts to his writing the college admissions essay. He’s failed senior year and missed the deadline so it seems more about a self-assessment than anything else, but then also becomes a bit deceiving in that whether it’s for him or not, the whole act was pointless and deceiving. Though so is Sutter so maybe that’s the point.
The conclusion wraps up in rapid speed after the accident. Sutter eventually pulls a Will Hunting and drives to Philadelphia to be with Aimee, even though she’s in school and he’s now in a big city, with lots of bars and stuff to do and at no point in these five closing minutes could I accept that someone struggling with alcoholism immediately got over the condition. It’s easy to see that this is probably little beyond acknowledging the problem and far from solving it. Both would go on to meet other people and have other experiences. There’s naivety in asking us to seriously consider that it all went happily ever after, and not see the inevitable ugliness to come.
The film attempts to replicate some hybrid of Good Will Hunting (1997) and Adventureland (2009), but Sutter’s problems are neither portrayed as all that serious until the end, and he’s not humble enough per the likes of Jesse Eisenberg for us to sympathize. Miles Teller carries the story in having us care about the character, but as you replay and continue the story, you realize how awful of a person he is. I had no faith that he wouldn’t screw over Aimee again and fall even further into alcohol. If he couldn’t handle senior year of high school, there was no way he was handling living with a girl in a big city with no job or college prospects.
BELOW: Maybe going to NYC with no job and no college prospects will cure severe alcoholism
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