, Port Arthur, Texas


September 13, 2013

‘Spectacularly’ good coming of age drama

— “The Spectacular Now” is not a spectacular movie—certainly not by summer blockbuster standards. The film is far too quiet to live up to that title, but it is a very good coming of age drama thanks to an unpredictable screenplay and superb acting by the film’s two main protagonists.

Based on Tim Tharp’s award-winning novel, “The Spectacular Now” seems to be setting us up for a clichéd story about a bad boy and a good girl who meet, fall in love and learn some life lessons from each other before parting ways at graduation. All of that is still true in this movie, but there’s nothing here that even remotely suggests a by-the-numbers melodrama.

Miles Teller plays the bad boy, a popular high school kid named Sutter who doesn’t worry about tomorrow, preferring to live in the spectacular now instead. It’s all something of a façade, which threatens to crumble after a breakup with his girlfriend (Brie Larson) and the looming threat of alcoholism. Sutter is a bad boy primed for an implosion.

Shailene Woodley plays the good girl, Aimee, a quiet, confident girl who gets good grades, helps her family and reads Manga in her quiet moments. She meets Sutter when he passes out on her lawn after a night of partying. Despite this initial meeting, there is a gradual but obvious attraction that grows between the two.

That’s to be expected, but the beauty of “The Spectacular Now” is that none of this feels clichéd. Watching Sutter and Aimee fall for each other never comes across as sure thing mandated by the screenplay. These characters are living, breathing people trying to deal with the turmoil of their adolescence. It’s a messy struggle that will pull at your heart strings even while making you shake your head in dismay.

Much of the credit for this goes to the actors, with particular mention given to Woodley and Teller. These are full-blooded performances that evoke empathy from the audience, even when the characters are behaving badly. These are two of my favorite performances of the year.

Let’s not forget director James Ponsoldt, who tells this story with a nice sense of intimacy. There’s plenty here to keep an audience engaged with the story, but Ponsoldt’s restrained direction allows a sense of melancholy to sneak in. The result is a film that will make you laugh even while it breaks your heart.

“The Spectacular Now” is a sweet, sad-yet-somewhat-hopeful movie that should please audiences looking for something meatier than all those summer blockbusters that have dominated movie theaters for the past three months. The film may be short on spectacle, but given that most coming of age movies are generally clichéd after school specials at best, the fact that “The Spectacular Now” is so good is a spectacular achievement indeed.


Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at

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