Boozy blemish mars acclaimed film
“The Spectacular Now” is earning praise from critics and audiences alike, a rare film that is producing industry respect and public approval. On the surface, this appears understandable: the coming-of-age storyline avoids formulaic contrivance and heavy-handed pretentiousness. The acting, particularly from its young leads (Miles Teller from the “Footloose” remake) and Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”), is bracing in its unforced on-screen poise. When the plot takes a tonal bend to more serious matters it does so with relative intelligence and ease.
But there’s an obvious elephant in the room that can’t be overlooked, an element so relevant to the credibility of the story that the script avoids completely and it’s shocking this fundamental defect isn’t provoking more contempt.
Teller is Sutter Keely, a high school senior well liked and well known, a confidant charmer and party animal, skating by on his affability without a concern for his grades. He’s thrown off his game by Aimee (Woodley), a serious student who doesn’t run in the popular circles, willingly helps with her Mom’s early morning paper route, and who normally wouldn’t attract the attention of a guy like Sutter.
The two have terrific chemistry. Even if the film telegraphs its conflict when we learn Sutter’s Dad (Kyle Chandler) who left Sutter’s Mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) will fall from his son’s pedestal with a loud thud – it packs a decent emotional wallop.
The film, adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel, handles its characters with genuine care. But the whole integrity of the film is thrown into question because in nearly every scene, Sutter is shown sipping from a whiskey flask or a spiked soda cup. The kid is a lush and except for one scene involving his boss, no one seems to know or care. Supposedly, Aimee is a “good girl,” but she quickly joins in Sutter’s habit and there’s no apparent consequence or remorse when an alcohol-induced potential tragedy is only narrowly avoided.
Did the writers want to engender sympathy for Sutter’s character despite his alcoholism, or did they not have the courage to deal with it while trying to maintain the convenient wrap-up of the film’s final scenes? Either way, the story feels incomplete.
“The Spectacular Now” didn’t have to become a message movie to deal with the truth of its main character’s flaws. Teens who act like adults are not immune to the adult consequences that accompany their choices. That may not be the story the filmmakers wanted to make, but the void makes for a spectacularly obvious blemish in an otherwise excellent effort.
Rated R for alcohol use, language and some sexuality (including one prolonged no-nudity sex scene) all involving teens.