IFF Boston 2013: The Spectacular Now Review

iffb iMAGE

Over the course of the next few days I will have the pleasure of attending numerous screenings at the 11th Annual Independent Film Festival Boston which takes place every year at various movie theatres in the Boston area. Last night, I attended the opening night of the festival at the Somerville Theatre which was accompanied by a screening of James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now.

Side Note: I also got to see Casey Affleck in person as he is the newly-minted Creative Advisor for the festival. It took everything in my power to not jump up on stage and heap him with praise for his performance as Robert Ford in the aptly titled The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) which not only was my favorite performance of that year, but one of my absolute favorites of recent memory. Anyway…

James Ponsoldt’s last film Smashed was one of my favorite films of last year, and told the tale of a young married couple whose mutual dependence on alcohol forces one of them to reconsider their relationship. It could be argued that The Spectacular Now is a continuation of this very idea as it tells the tale of Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a high school slacker who has a penchant for constantly boozing. After a break-up and a chance encounter with Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), a girl from his school, he takes her under his wing and in the process learns something about himself.

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U.S. Release Date: August 2nd, 2013

The most impressive aspect of Now is that it tells the coming of age tale in a manner which we’ve seen before, but it still comes across as strikingly original. Sutter and Aimee comes across as real people, not quirked-up high school teens, and a lot of the credit should definitely go to Ponsoldt as well as the fantastic performances from Teller and Woodley. Teller, who you may recognize from a supporting turn in Rabbit Hole (2010) with Nicole Kidman as well as the most entertaining aspect of the Footloose remake (2011), gives both a hilarious and tender performance as the wise-cracking Sutter. He’s the kind of kid who it’s not hard to see a lot of yourself in, as on the surface he’s the life of the party and most seem to like him, but underneath he has serious doubts about himself. Woodley, who played George Clooney’s daughter fantastically in The Descendants (2011), is a heart-breaker here as Aimee. Gone is the stereotypical manic pixie dream girl (google it) and in its place is an achingly real teen girl who has interests that she may be embarrassed by, but with a little confidence is able to evolve into a caring, loving girlfriend. In a just world both would get attention come awards season, but hey, the Academy don’t do teen drama.

The supporting cast is full of the critically-acclaimed television fan’s dreams (hey, that’s me!). From Kyle Chandler as Sutter’s absentee father, to Bob Odenkirk’s tie store boss, and finally to Andre Royo as Sutter’s Geometry teacher, Ponsoldt clearly knows how to stack the odds in his favor. All are minor players but are perfectly cast, most notably Chandler who plays against type as a deadbeat alcoholic parent as opposed to everyone’s favorite father Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights.

The script is adapted, from the novel by Tim Tharp, by 500 Days of Summer scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber and seems to be a step up for them. While I was a fan of 500The Spectacular Now is a more dramatically satisfying film altogether. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything and deals with issues that are prominent in high school life (no matter how many parents may want to deny it). As Michael stated in the Q & A after the screening, they chose to deviate from the book with the ending of the film and as far as I can tell, they made the right choice. It’s a realistic ending and although it doesn’t answer all your questions, it seems to leave the story as well as Sutter and Aimee, on terms fitting with their places in the world.

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Overall, I couldn’t more highly recommend The Spectacular Now and can’t wait to see what other films Ponsoldt may have down the pipeline. He’s a filmmaker concerned with telling real stories with real consequences. They’re adult, even when they’re about two high school kids falling for each other. He doesn’t cast judgment on the presence of alcohol in his films, but rather he uses it as a tool to enlighten these characters and give us a glimpse into why perhaps they choose to use it. As for Sutter Keely, well, he’s still debating that in his head, probably while kicking back and having a taste.

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