The Spectacular Now: Great? Or Hype?

Hello. This is a Korean in America. It has been sometime since we discussed a movie. The reason for this is that the summer season is winning down and not much good stuff has been coming out. However, this Labor Day weekend, I went to see a small movie called “The spectacular now”. Let talk about this critical darling!

Before it had been released the movie “The Spectacular Now” got a lot of positive critical responses. So, I went into the movie with the hope of seeing a small decent movie. When I came out of the movie, my response was “it was ok”. I did not agree with all the phrase the movie was getting but could not get my finger on what specifically made it not that great. The acting was good overall. The cinematography was good for this type of movie. So, why did I not respond to this movie as well as my respected peers online and everywhere else?

After some soul searching, I think I get why. “The Spectacular Now” is one of those indie movies that get a lot of attention because it is well polished for an indie movie. When watching indie movies, you see a lot of creativity regarding both the subject and the craft of movie making. At the same time, a lot of movies in this category lack the polish that more mainstream movie has. So, whenever an indie movie that is polished comes out, you notice it.

The problem with “The Spectacular Now” is that it is a shallow movie under all that polish. It is not about much and does not tell an insightful story about the human condition. If you look close, the movie is basically an after school special under its very nicely polished hood.

If categorized, “The Spectacular Now” falls in between a coming of age movie and a slice of life movie. It follows Sutter Keely who is a high school senior who is basically functioning alcoholic who under achieves and has some massive daddy issue about the father that left long ago. The movie follows a short period bookended by him trying to write a college application essay.

From this description of the plot, you could imagine that there is a lot of good material here. Yes, I agree. The problem is that there are never covered in any detail. The movie shows him constantly drinking but does not really comment about it other than linking it to underachievement and not as a separate and serious problem. In addition, Sutter Keely has psychological issues, while not drastic, that are truly complex that contribute to his current condition. The movie all contributes this to his daddy issues. Thus, the solution is to understand your father is an ass and get over it. Oh, and love…! A good girl’s love is a solution to everything….

Through the movie, there are some indicators of some other serious issue. Sutter Keely has an older sister played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead who gives a brief but interesting performance. Her performance provides some hints about what I would guess sexual abuse or some other kind of abuse. However, this is only in her portrayal of a women who herself has some serious problems but tries to hold it together with all her strength. The mother’s response to Sutter Keely inquiry is also curious and suggests something more than your father is a bum that abandoned his family.  So, the movie does with it? I just ignores all the hints and ends with “ Yes, your father is a bum!”

Ignoring the whole message of the movie for a moment, the movie has other problems.

First, you have no sense of time in this movie which reduces the believability of the core relationship. The movie starts with Sutter Keely getting dumped by his girlfriend. Did you know that there are two “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” alumni in this movie?   Brie Larson is also playing the ex-girlfriend in this movie. She is still charming but seems to have gain about 25 pounds since “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”. Then, Sutter Keely moves on to Aimee Finicky played by the lovable Shailene Woodley.

The movie makes this new relationship the centerpiece and Sutter Keely’s salvation. While I would not disagree Shailene Woodley could actually be a type of person that ends up changing someone’s life, the movie makes it seem that the relationship is only a few weeks old because there is no real indicator of time flowing other than having a prom and graduating. So, it is less believable that the relationship is that special especially since the relationship did not change Sutter Keely. It more changes Shailene Woodley’s more than Sutter Keely who has serious problems. This leads into another problem.

Second, the world in which the movie is set does not contribute anything to the movie. Other than a few shots of a cell phone, you cannot know when this movie is set. It could be set in the 90s without a problem other than the cell phone. The town where Sutter Keely lives in is located somewhere is middle America where there are not many people who are not Caucasian.  As a movie goer with some experience with coming of age movies, you would expect that setting your movie in a nowhere place in a non-descript time would play a significant part in the characters’ motivation. It does not! You could have this story set in the suburbs of Chicago or New York and the story would not change. As a result, the movie is left with a bland setting without getting any use of it.

Third, other than the two leads, the remaining cast does not contribute to the story.  In any kind of coming of age movie, the other characters are used as plot devices in the story. While some are actually developed enough to function beyond being just a plot device, most are just plot devices. However, in this movie, there is not much need for plot devices since nothing is actually happening beyond the two love birds. At the same time, no one is developed to the degree that the characters are actual characters. Thus, the movie does work as either a coming of age movie or a slice of life movie. You could actually cut away 20 minutes of the movie with most of the supporting characters and the movie would not be affected. The exception would be the two “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” alumni gals who are great. However, both of them do not have much material to work on. The movie also casts Jennifer Jason Leigh to plays Sutter Keely’s mother. Her character is a non-character in the movie and could have been played by an unknown TV actress. The really sad thing is that the movie did in a manner of speaking.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is rather unrecognizable compared to her glory days during the 80s and early 90s. She was never a great actress but had this intangible quality that made her irresistibly charming.  A similar example would be Andie MacDowell during her heydays. In this movie, you see that age has robbed her of that intangible quality and now she is just an old not so good actress which makes a movie goer of my generation terribly sad.

Finally, the character of Sutter Keely is not interesting enough to support the relationship with Shailene Woodley’s character. Imagine a middle aged unsuccessful used car sales man. Then, imagine how used car sales man would have been like in high school. That would be Sutter Keely.  Sutter Keely is a functioning alcoholic but not one of those fun or brooding ones. He is just a rather dull alcoholic who has enough charm to get by and make most people like him but nothing else. He is one of those guys who, in high school, are running on a gas tank which is filled only a quarter.

Miles Teller who plays Sutter Keely will never be picked as the most attractive guy in the room. He has this meat head quality that prevents him from being instantly likeable. In addition, he has too much baby fate on the lower part of his face making him act with only his eyes. It actually resembles having to act with prosthetics covering half of your face. However, he does some good acting with those eyes. This is where the problem lies. Miles Teller is a good enough actor to not be bad but not great enough due to his physical treats to carry this not-particularly interesting nor attractive character. This is made evident when he is acting across from Shailene Woodley. While the relationship between the two works, Shailene Woodley does most of the work.

So, why does every love this movie? It is Shailene Woodley. She is lovely in this movie. While her character is rather one dimensional, Shailene Woodley portrays love and affection in the way that only a 17-18 year old girl who is truly in love could portray. Shailene Woodley is the light that tricks everyone to think this movie is great and not just decent.

In conclusion, “The Spectacular Now” is a decent movie about a teenager. It does not have any insight into the teenage condition, drinking, or love. At the same time, it is not treated those subjects as a joke. The movie is a young love story that respects what those subjects are but carefully side steps every single one of those subjects. If you had any reason to see this movie in theaters, it would be to see Shailene Woodley shine on a big screen.


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