Movie review: “Spectacular Now” among year’s best films

By Columbus Alive
From the August 22, 2013 edition

Teen-centric movies like “The Spectacular Now” work a fine line typical of those tumultuous years: finding the right mix of sweetness and angst.

They’re meant to evoke a gentle nostalgia for those seemingly carefree days that are filled with confusion. And it’s easy to overdo it in either direction.

“Spectacular Now” is warm, witty and unexpected. Above all, it feels more real than a movie like this has any right being. Think “Say Anything” (and that’s high praise coming from this critic).

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is no Holden Caulfield. It’s hard to see much angst on the surface of this affable, popular and naturally charming high school senior. Sutter’s the life of the party, not the wallflower you may be used to seeing in these movies.

But a split from his perfect girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) leads to a boozy bender that culminates in Sutter waking up on a stranger’s lawn. This is where he meets Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley).

Aimee is the quintessential good girl, and Sutter the quintessential bad boy. Do they fall for each other? Eventually, of course, but this is one of the more organic on-screen romances you will see (and an unpredictable one).

Movies like this are a soft spot for cynical romantics like myself, and the fact that the screenplay adaptation of Tim Tharp’s novel was done by the writers behind “(500) Days of Summer” is a pretty good indication of who will like it.

But “Spectacular Now” is less precious than “Summer,” giving in to some real heartbreaking moments. Director James Ponsoldt, who did the underseen alcoholic love story “Smashed,” knows when and how to go for the gut.

Of course, this movie is driven by the performances of its young leads. Woodley generated a ton of buzz and a Golden Globe nomination for her breakout in “The Descendents,” but this is light years beyond what she did there. And she’s only 21.

But Miles Teller’s Sutter is the anchor. Sutter is charming and smug to the point that you may want to punch him at times, but Teller gives him the right dose of vulnerability.

It’s been a great summer for sweetly angsty coming-of-age movies already, with “The Kings of Summer,” “The Way, Way Back” and “Mud.”

This movie, though, trumps them all. Look for an appearance on my Top 10 list at the end of the year. It’s real, and it’s “Spectacular.”