Anyone who doubts up-and-coming actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley after watching The Spectacular Now should be taken out back and flogged on account of stupidity. Watching the journey these two misunderstood teenagers embark on will have you both laughing heartily and crying soulfully, as the guys who scripted 500 Days Of Summer once again tug at our hearts with an emotionally jarring, yet absolutely lovely adaptation of Tim Tharp’s novel of the same name. If you’ve seen 500 Days Of Summer, you’ll know both Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber excel at scripting unconventional love stories, and trust me, The Spectacular Now is a beautiful spiritual follow-up to 500 Days Of Summer that blossoms into its own independent smash-hit.
Following the fun-filled life of Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), we meet the young high school senior as he’s about to apply for college. Bullshitting his way through the application essay, it becomes very evident that Sutter doesn’t take life too seriously, and this is confirmed by his reckless alcohol-fueled lifestyle. Always with a flask in his hand, Sutter preaches the importance of “living in the now,” never caring about the past and the future. The past has happened, and a post high school future is bleak – why would anyone want to embrace either? But upon meeting a nice girl-next-door type named Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), Sutter has a chance to change. What starts as nothing but what Sutter describes as a “pity boyfriend” turns much more serious as Aimee is able to convince Sutter to do things he never would have, but repeated run-ins with his ex-girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) still keep that wound fresh in his mind. Can Sutter mature and grow with Aimee and develop something more? Or will the booze, an ex-girlfriend, and his constant “only now matters” mentality sabotage it all.
Wow, kudos to Miles Teller for playing such a tragically jaded character in Sutter Keely. With so many layers to this surface-value party animal, Teller manages to convey every bit of emotional scarring and repressed sadness that actually exists, bottled up and hidden away. While “living in the now” sounds like a brilliant motto to live by, Sutter is only using it as an excuse to mask the pain and suffering that’s driven him to become so numb to the world, forcing him to embrace all the wrong reasons to live in the now. Teller gets to the very core of Sutter Keely, and while being overly-likeable, jovial, witty, funny, and seemingly consistently happy, we immediately see the emptiness in his actions. Sutter keeps spiraling downward in a whirlwind of alcohol and bad decisions, making us want to reach out and save a human so obviously begging for help. This side of Teller’s troubled performance is nothing short of remarkable, building a character with so many different faces, and playing each one in an equally convincing manner.
But then in comes Shailene Woodley’s character Aimee, Sutter’s knight in average armor. Embodying everything Cassidy isn’t, Sutter tries to suggest Aimee is nothing but a charity case, even though we know she’s everything he needs. Woodley does a perfect job establishing Aimee as this innocent girl who becomes blinded by Sutter’s interest in her, so much so that we actually start to get angry at Sutter. We become Aimee’s defensive friend, watching helplessly and sincerely hoping Sutter doesn’t break poor Aimee’s heart. Woodley wins us over the minute she becomes entranced by Sutter’s charm, and earns our respect by attempting to tame the wild animal that is Sutter Keely.
Just like in 500 Days Of Summer though, The Spectacular Now triumphs because of genuinely real characters and scenarios. The dynamic between Aimee and Sutter is very awkward at times, juvenile, and full of that nostalgic teen romance. What starts as nothing but some impulsive decisions fueled by outlying circumstances flourishes into something more, as both Aimee and Sutter get to know each other while simultaneously building a solid relationship. There’s no fancy rom-com gestures, no Hollywood bullshit, no frills or garnishes – just real, raw, gut-wrenching emotions that hit like punches. We’re transported back to a time when we first found love and thought we were invincible, only to be stripped of all safety – leaving us vulnerable for The Spectacular Now‘s ending.
As for our supporting cast, they work mainly just to provide different perspectives on Sutter’s life. Brie Larson exposes Sutter’s inability to commit, Bob Odenkirk keeps Sutter busy as his boss, Mary Elizabeth Winstead provides a sister character completely opposite to Sutter’s personality, Jennifer Jason Leigh spends her life protecting Sutter as his mother, and Kyle Chandler is the father Sutter never knew. In putting together the puzzle that is Sutter Keely, each character unlocks a different piece along the way.
I can’t put to words how invested I became in The Spectacular Now as I got deeper and deeper into the life of Sutter Keely. Miles Teller’s performance creates a character full of wonder, intrigue, and teenage stupidity – but we know there’s something more. His mother alludes to the demonstrative showings of enviable character that separate him from his loveless father, yet Sutter sees himself in a completely different light. The magic is in Sutter’s journey though, going deeper and growing darker than anyone can imagine. Sutter Keely’s personality boils down to being described as nothing more than a scared, growing boy, afraid of who he might become, showing the depths he’ll go to hide such insecurities. He’s a boy who thinks he doesn’t deserve such happiness, but Shailene Woodley’s character thinks otherwise – and that’s what’s so damn spectacular about this movie. There’s nothing wrong with living in the now, but don’t forget there’s another bright, shining day ahead of you – and a future to seize filled with exponentially more glorious moments to come. I’ll never forget that again.