At least once a year we’re given a film about teenagers. If they’re not wizards, vampires, werewolves, star-crossed lovers or smart-mouthed too-cool-for-schoolers, they’re fodder for some misunderstood slasher. Rarely are we given a film that portrays adolescent angst with refreshing honesty. Thankfully, we have such a film in THE SPECTACULAR NOW.
Sutter Keely is a popular high school senior. He’s charmingly cocky, self-assured and he gets along great with everyone. He loves his part-time job at a men’s clothing store and he has a nice car. He also loves his alcohol and he’s never very far away from his next supersized, whiskey-laced soft drink. Life is great for Sutter and he has no plans to change anything. One day, after his girlfriend dumps him, he gets drunk and wakes up on the lawn of his classmate, Aimee Finecky. She’s different from all the other girls he knows. She’s a bit of a science fiction nerd but she’s sweet. She dreams of a bright future for herself and whomever she should marry. Sutter, on the other hand, lives only in the now. He has no dreams. Yet, somehow, they’re drawn together.
Like most teenagers, Sutter and Aimee both have parental issues. Both want to stand up to their mothers but neither has the confidence to do so. For Aimee, she wants to go to an out-of-state university but her mother wants her to stay home. For Sutter, he wants to reconnect with his estranged father but his mother wants to keep them apart. When they make a pact with each other to challenge their parents’ decisions, they set the wheels in motion that will change their lives forever.
Sutter tracks down his father, and he and Amy go off to visit him. What they find is not what they expect. Like Sutter, his dad lives only for the moment. As he says to Sutter, “live fast, die hard, and leave a beautiful memory”. Sutter’s eyes are opened for the first time and, although he sees the path he is on, he feels he is not worthy enough to have a life that is any different. Amy, on the other hand, sees Sutter differently. In fact, everyone from his teacher to his sister, boss, best friend, ex-girlfriend (Brie Larson, DON JON) and even his ex’s new boyfriend, see Sutter differently. They see that if he can ever love himself as much as they love him, he will be awesome.
If we were not Sutter growing up, we certainly knew kids who were. That’s what makes this film so appealingly heartbreaking. He is confident on the outside but is a ball of insecurity on the inside. Aimee, on the other hand, is just the opposite but she is just as authentic. Not surprisingly, THE SPECTACULAR NOW won a special award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival for its principal actors, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, who both shine in the film. The National Board of Review named THE SPECTACULAR NOW as one of 2013’s Top Ten Independent Films and the Phoenix Film Critics’ Society called it the Most Overlooked Film of the Year.
The film isn’t scheduled to come to Hong Kong (no surprise) but if you can find it either in DVD format or online (legally, of course), get it and watch it with your teenage kids. Please note, though, that there is one scene of sex and nudity.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 34:50.)