Sundance '13 Review: THE SPECTACULAR NOW - Great Coming of Age Film

MovieSundanceby Joey Paur

The Spectacular Now

Director: James Ponsoldt

Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, based on the novel by Tim Tharp

Stars: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler

Synopsis: Sutter Keely lives in the now. It’s a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he’s the life of the party, loves his job at a men’s clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he’s never far from his supersized, whisky-fortified 7UP cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finicky hovering over him. Not a member of the cool crowd, she’s different: the “nice girl” who reads science fiction and doesn’t have a boyfriend. She does have dreams, while Sutter lives in a world of impressive self-delusion. And yet they’re drawn to each other.

Adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel, The Spectacular Now captures the insecurity and confusion of adolescence without looking for tidy truths. Young actors rarely portray teens with the maturity that Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley display, and they are phenomenal together. Funny, compassionate, and poignant, James Ponsoldt’s third feature again demonstrates his ability to lay bare the souls of his characters.


The lead character, played by Teller, is very fun and likable. There is a Vince Vaughn kind of quality to his acting, and there were a lot of moments that reminded me of some of the characters we've seen Vaughn play over the years. I think he's talented enough to have a decent film career ahead of him. The main female lead and love interest in the story was played by Woodley, and I thought she was fantastically adorable. She's a hell of a talented young actress that I also enjoyed in The Descendents. She's got a great film career ahead of her, especially after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out. That's when she'll get noticed by the masses, and her career will blow up. As far as everyone else goes, they were all great! The other parts were small, but they are also very different roles that we've seen Leigh, Winstead, and Chandler in.

Story and Direction:

There was a lot of buzz building up for this movie over the past couple of days, and all of it was positive. So of course I made a priority to see it even though I really didn't even know what it was about. I didn't even prep up by reading a story synopsis for it. There's just something awesome about going to a movie, and not knowing anything about it, which is one of the reason I love coming to Sundance. I ended up loving this film!

The movie starts off with a kid writing a college application essay of how his life was so great up until the point his girlfriend broke up with him. It comes complete with flashbacks of how amazing their relationship was and how they were the life of the party. He's one of those guys that just lives in the moment, not really thinking about the his future. It kind of started out like one of those dime-a-dozen teen comedies, but it ended up being something very different. It's still a fun film, but it is a much deeper and more thought provoking coming-of-age story. He ends up befriending a girl that really has some self esteem issues, and they form an incredibly tight bond and relationship in which they push each other to live their lives and take the steps they need to have a hopeful future. This was a wonderful, feel-good movie packed full of emotion from beginning to end, and I absolutely loved the characters. We may not all be able to relate to everything they end up going through, but there are moments where I would think, "Yeah, I know what that feels like." I think many of you might feel the same way after watching the film.

The movie is a realistic, believable, and honest story about the anxieties teens feel about the future. It also explores family issues and the impact of addiction. It is a heavy movie, but one that is enjoyable to watch.

Similar To:

The movie is comparable to previous Sundance Films such as The First Time and Skateland. I'm not sure if you've seen either of those movies, but I couldn't really think of any other movie that you might have seen to compare it with. It's a different kind of coming-of-age film with a good mix of drama and comedy. 

Chances That You'll See It in Theaters:

I think the film will at least get a limited theatrical release, but I don't think it will get a wide release. It just doesn't have the star power, and it's not an easy movie to market. They can't market it as a teen comedy, because it's not, and teen dramas aren't really a big sell. If it does end up coming out in a theater near you, I recommend checking it out!


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