The Spectacular Now is half of a soulful, honest teen romance and indie gem. Unfortunately, the other half plays like an Everclear song. Maybe that sort of thing works for you, but I find it hard enough to make it through one of Art Alexakis' tunes, which is to say nothing of 45-plus minutes of the same material.
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are the young lovers in this film, and it wouldn't surprise me if both are big stars someday soon. Woodley established herself in The Descendants, and her subtly good performance here is another data point suggesting she is an up-and-comer. I was less familiar with Teller's work because his two most prominent roles were in found footage sex comedies (21 & Over and Project X) that have all the appeal of dental work. But with Jonah Hill's voice, John Cusack's face and an easy charisma, he's got a future too.
Teller plays Sutter Keely, a hard-drinking charmer who, with only his overworked mother and much older sister to look after him, is often left to his own devices. Those devices include an ever-present flask, a part-time job he can coast through and a series of unserious relationships. When he's dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy, who is played by Brie Larson, he's unexpectedly left smarting, and so he turns to Woodley's Aimee Finecky, mostly to pass the time.
Whether it's the relative youth of Teller and Woodley, the setting of the film (Athens, Georgia) or the pared down script, there's an authenticity to the interplay between the two. Star-crossed lovers they are not.
High school felt like this, didn't it? Grand gestures are for the movies. High school love is more about impulse and instant connections than anything else, and Teller and Woodley's characters reflect that reality. The Spectacular Now, unlike many other films of its ilk, resists the urge to have its not-yet-fully developed characters make great speeches, and it is the better for it.
Sadly, while it nimbly avoids one trope, it falls right into another. Sutter Keely's absentee father has to play a part because ... it explains Sutter's risky behavior, I guess? Because we can't laugh too much at his hijinks? I don't know. I can't answer that question, and I'm not sure director James Ponsoldt could provide a convincing response himself.
Sutter spends much of the film wondering why he's not allowed to see his father. Predictably, it turns out it is his father, played by Kyle Chandler, who doesn't really have time for him even though he doesn't live that far away. Even more predictably, the inevitable rejection of his father leaves Sutter reeling, putting his budding romance with Aimee in jeopardy. It's not so much that this was an untidy resolution. It's more that it felt so painfully familiar.
Teller and Woodley gave the film a fresh, real-feeling start that was thoroughly squandered because Teller's character
had to go sort out his daddy issues.