Miles Teller has made a career out of partying. Onscreen, that is. In films like Footloose, Project X and 21 & Over, he played characters who enjoyed drinking and having a good time.
In The Spectacular Now, he sobers up.
Like some of his previous characters, Sutter (Teller’s character here) spends much of his time onscreen in a state of intoxication. He, along with his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), is the life of the party– as he says in a voiceover early on. That is until she dumps him, leaving him hungover and asleep on the lawn on a naïve youngster named Aimee (Shailene Woodley). Aimee, who wakes Sutter up in more ways than one, isn’t one of the popular students in school, but she dreams big, hoping to work for NASA one day.
Of course, the two are soon spending time together and what starts as a harmless flirtation surprisingly– for Sutter, that is– becomes something more as he develops feelings for her. As she gets closer to him, she realizes that she may be in love and sees the extreme vulnerability beneath his smiling facade that brings him back to the bottle time and again.
Unlike other coming of age dramas which often become cartoonish and silly, this one seldom shies away from showing characters acting– and reacting– like actual people. These characters are real and palpable onscreen. Sutter, who could have easily been one-dimensional, becomes a complex and powerful soul, whose vision of who his father is– he hasn’t seen him for years– shapes his outlook on his mother and his entire existence.
Aimee, on the other hand, also comes from difficult circumstances but they have shaped her in a more idealistic way. She loves back when others show her attention and never gets angry even when she should. She’s been so mistreated in the past that what someone shows a glimpse of affection for her, she can’t help herself from falling in love.
The short running span of the film–it clocks in at a crisp 95 minutes– is misleading. By the end of the story, I felt like I knew a lot of the players involved here. From Sutter’s deadbeat father Tommy (a powerfully-cast Kyle Chandler) to his surprisingly self-aware ex-girlfriend Cassidy (Larson) to Sutter’s paternalistic boss Dan (Bob Odenkirk), each actor has a powerful role to play in this story.
Adapted from the novel by Tim Tharp, screenwriters Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter have written a story that never feels forced or tired. It simply exists. There are some moments where the dramatic story jumps the gun but the frustrations of those few moments are negated as the story walks back to reality.
Towards the end of the story, there’s a powerful moment where Sutter speaks honestly with his supervisor about some of his personal demons. When supervisor Dan notes if he were Sutter’s father, he would be giving the young man a lecture about his careless lifestyle, Sutter says– in the film’s most poignant moment– “Dan if you were my Dad, you wouldn’t have to.”
It’s powerful and true moments like this that make The Spectacular Now worth seeing right away.