Friday, August 9, 2013

The Spectacular Now [2013]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (4 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

The Spectacular Now [2013] (directed by James Ponsoldt screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber based on the novel by Tim Tharp) is a surprising and intelligent coming of age story, which despite its title arguably works to undermine "the Now's" glorification:  For is any "Now," no matter how perfect, capable of standing up against a Sea of Tomorrows?  And yet "the Now," any "Now," has Value, even when "a Now" becomes "part of the Past."  Wow!  Honestly, this is one heck of a story about the central characters' last semester of High School (one of those periods in Life that seems both Awesome / Eternal at the time, but of course is not  ...).

Sutter (played by Miles Teller) is a damn good kid.  Yes, it becomes patently obvious 15 minutes into the film that he's going to have to face a drinking problem.  But he's also a really, really good guy.  He's popular, often "the life of the party" but he uses his popularity to help his friends and classmates who are less (socially) capable than he.  His friend (played by Masam Holden) is less successful than he is with girls, so he sets him up.  He runs into Aimee (played by Shailene Woodley) the other main character in the film, whose name he's embarrassed he does not know/remember at that first encounter, even if she goes to his school.  Yet after a few moments of experiencing her goodness (she finds him passed out on her lawn after a party...) he decides that he's going to be nice to her and make her see her potential even if she's perhaps too shy/insecure to see it herself.

Indeed, Sutter seems to have plans for everybody, except for himself.  He's far smarter than his grades would indicate, but can't seem to focus on writing an effective answer to an essay question on a college entrance application that COULD perhaps do much to explain away those poor grades.  Instead, he drinks, spiking his soft-drinks with alcohol that he's become rather adept in getting a-hold-of despite being clearly underage.  Indeed, he spends his time being "Comfortably Numb" (there's no reference to the famous song by Pink Floyd in the film, but IMHO that's EXACTLY where he keeps himself).

Why?  Well, we learn that he comes from a single parent home.  His mother (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a nurse (again someone who helps people).  His father has been out of his (and his family's) life for at least 10 years.   What Sutter remembers of him was that he too was also "a good guy" / "the life of the party" but he left or was thrown out by his mom for reasons that she adamantly refuses to talk to him about.  His older sister, already married, knows more, but also chooses not to talk much their parents' breakup AND HE IS BOTH TOO NICE AND PROBABLY TOO AFRAID TO ASK.

It is only after Aimee challenges him to be brave (just as he challenged her to be braver in facing her mother) that Sutter finally does not allow his mother / sister to continue to keep the story of his parents' breakup (and his father's whereabouts) a secret anymore.  Of course, what Sutter's told / pieces together on his own is painful, BUT NOT IN ANY CHEAP AND PREDICTABLE WAY.  His mother had told him (repeatedly) that he reminds her of his father ... and ... (well that's the rest of the movie ;-)

Is Sutter really like his dad?  How much is he like his dad?  Was/is his dad all bad?  Of course not, his mother never would have married his dad if he was.  But his dad did have clear flaws/failing.  Can he, Sutter, his dad's son, change?

Can Sutter learn to live in more than a "Comfortable Now" ... especially since the "Now" WON'T LAST FOREVER?  This is a great, great story! ;-)

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