Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Spectacular Now

A charismatic, happy-go-lucky high school senior whose life seems to be largely perfect, is hardly the subject of any film, book or song. The Sutter Keelys in life - that is the well-liked everyman - is never hard to find but certainly difficult to find depth in. 

The Spectacular Now shies away from the clich├ęd tellings of any romance. The tired storyline of boy meets girl is forgone. The tired storyline of nice girl transforms bad boy is surrendered. Realistic on all fronts - it shows how love is hardly the miracle we see it to be, but a hesitant, fearful and dangerous experience with little benefit and so much consequence. It is a rare film which depicts a relationship in terms a man's sentimentality. It is more or less a love story from the point of view of a reckless heady young man who lives his life to the fullest, not in the future, but in full appreciation of the NOW. He doesn't see the appeal of the future, of adulthood. He cannot be said to be immature, but simply sceptical of adulthood and thus reverts to the alternative. 

Shailene Woodley's easy transition from her defiant, passionate persona in The Descendant's to the sweet, forgiving and easily influenced Aimee Finecky implies her potential as a truly chameleonic actor. Rather than portraying Aimee's vulnerability as a weakness of character, Woodley actually manages to evoke a sort of admiration in the viewer. Her vulnerability - that is her openness - is a quality. The miracle promised of a transformation of either character is never fulfilled. And I was glad of that. I appreciated each as they were. 

Teenage films hardly ever entertain the interests of the mature world. Aside from bullying-related angst, it seems adults simply reserve little sympathy for the "petty" and somewhat "insignificant" lives of teenagers. In some ways, The Spectacular Now illustrates Sutter's perception of life as a ghost train, adolescence as the last station before the graveyard of happiness that is maturity. At one point in the film, Sutter questions his teacher "are you happy?" in a venture to having his geometry teacher understand his aversion to being an adult. It seems that his teacher agrees or maybe he just sees the hopelessness of the situation and the time he has wasted.   

Whilst the director, James Ponsoldt (director of Smashed) has taken a great risk in adapting the book without so much explicit referencing in terms of the script, it pays off. Having seen the acting merits of his cast - he has rightly exploited and elevated their performances above that of a smooth and explicit dialogue. Instead of explaining in words, he used film to demonstrate. What greater gift can you ask of a director? 

In this review I have chosen to focus on the story depiction, script and acting aspects of the film. Whilst not undermining the other cinematic qualities of this film, it is these features that make it so exceptional. I have written largely concerning the merits of the film - the only real downfall I can recall is the slight misrepresentation of the story at the beginning. Here, Sutter introduced himself in the "now" - montage stylee - but unnecessarily so. Aside from this, a refreshing take on the tragedy that is modern love in all its indifference and disconnectedness, is just what the world of cinema needs. 



  1. Great review. I so agree that Woodley's chameleonic transformation was utterly thrilling. She's proving to be one of the best actors of her generation. I absolutely adore her.

    1. Thank you so much Alex! Yes just from comparing this performance to her previous ones you can really tell how diverse she is.