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Saturday Matinee: The Spectacular Now starring Shailene Woodley & Miles Teller #book2movie #review

The Spectacular Now opened back in 2013, and while I didn't read the book, I adored the movie. So did a lot of critics, it was quite the indie-darling.

You can screen The Spectacular Now on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu for $2.99 or for another buck, on Google Play and youTube. Here's what I wrote about today's Saturday Matinee back then. 

The film is being called the best of the summer - don't miss it.
Let me be honest, I didn't read the book. I have no idea if The Spectacular Now film, adapted by 500 Days of Summer scribes Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter and directed by James Ponsoldt is anything like Tim Tharp's YA novel, let alone whether it's a good adaptation of the material. I don't have a clue. In fact, I'd really like to hear from you if you have read the book and do have a clue. 
I do know that The Spectacular Now it's a spectacular little movie. Spectacular is a pretty big word so that may be overstating it but it's very, very good. Little because the film was made for a measly 2.5 million dollars and really, what's spectacular is how much entertainment value a small budget can garner! Hollywood heavyweights like Stephen Spielberg and George Clooney (read this!) have been bemoaning the industry's reliance on big budget tent-pole movies to fill theater seats; I'll join the chorus of voices who prefer story to spectacle and offer The Spectacular Now as evidence of its feasibility.

The Spectacular Now is not a summer rom-com, though there are laughs and there is most definitely romance and sex - utterly NON-gratuitous sex, the nervous, first-time variety handled delicately by Ponsoldt.  As I see it, while it is a love story, more than anything The Spectacular Now is a coming of age story. The focus is on Sutter Keely (Miles Tenner) a popular hard-partying high school senior whose slacker attitude has left him in danger of not graduating.  

The perpetually buzzed class clown, Sutter takes up with a shy, nerdy girl Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) when his girlfriend dumps him. At first, Aimee's a pity-project, a gap-filler to while away the hours instead of confronting where he is in life. As their feelings deepen, the couple gives each other strength; the pair form a pact to stand up to their mothers:  Hers won't let her go to college, she's needed at home. His won't give him his father's phone #, his parents have been separated for years and Sutter, blaming his mother, longs to see his dad again. Aimee, flourishing under Sutter's attention, is empowered finally to take action on her own behalf. Sutter, facing reality for the first time, seems to flounder. Finding each other seems less the point than finding themselves. But perhaps that's what love does best; helps us be our best, true selves.

Miles Teller as Sutter Keely; the guy knows how to get the party started

At 26, Miles Teller is completely convincing as an 18-year-old, he's got all that surface swagger and brag down. Teller's not a typically handsome guy but his Sutter is the gregarious type, the first one in the pool, fully clothed. Sutter's big personality, not his looks, are the big attraction. 

Image of Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now based on the book by Tim Tharp

Shailene Woodley is Aimee to Miles Teller's Sutter in The Spectacular Now

Shailene Woodley, in polar opposition to her misbehaving wild child in The Descendants, is an insecure Aimee, a graphic novel-loving geek of a girl, used to, and comfortable being ignored, so devoid of self-esteem that she can do little more than giggle with disbelief at Sutter's attentiveness. Braving the no makeup look that Woodley herself prefers, her Aimee, gobsmacked that anyone, let alone, BMOC Sutter Keely would ask her to prom, reads as real and her methods, very unshowy. 

That's what I loved about Woodley in The Descendants - she doesn't overplay, grounded in her characters, she never acts, she just is.   Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) good-looking but scruffy, is hard to watch, so believable is he in a smallish part as the disappointing deadbeat dad. Jennifer Jason Leigh is equally authentic as Sutter's long-suffering mother. I especially liked Ponsoldt's casting of Dayo Okeniyi (Thresh in last year's The Hunger Games),a black student and athlete who takes up with Sutter's ex, played by Brie Larson. I like it because while the filmmakers don't comment on his color, clearly unimportant, they also haven't made him a stereotype. There are no gangsta rap cliches, Marcus is just another high school student desperate for a girl to 'like' him. Film and television creators MUST actively begin depicting black males in a wider range than the usual stereotypes if we're ever going to overcome our societal bias. Kudos to Ponsoldt for doing so here.

The filmmakers have made it clear they don't consider The Spectacular Now a message movie; they deliberately didn't include consequences for Sutter's dangerous, drunk driving habit that weaves through the tale. According to Weber:

“The mission all along was that it was a real love story. This isn’t a movie about drinking or partying, although we wanted to be honest in our portrayal of those things. It’s not a message movie, it’s not an after school special,” Weber said
That being said, every movie has a message, intended or not. Leaving the issue of drinking and driving aside - the writers have Sutter's boss attempt some half-hearted fatherly 'If I was your father' advice but even he (Bob Odenkirk) trails off, unfinished. The nugget I came away with was that to fully embrace 'The Spectacular Now',  to truly live fully in the moment, you can't be afraid to learn from the past or to face the future. You can't get so stuck in the now that it sucks you in, debilitating you of the ability to plan, prepare and move forward. One spectacular day at a time. 

The Spectacular Now writers Michael H. Weber and partner Scott Neustadter are also the writers behind the highly anticipated The Fault in Our Stars movie based on John Green's super-selling YA book about two teens dying from cancer; Woodley who fought for the role, was officially cast as Hazel Grace this past May. Shailene Woodley starts shooting at the end of this month opposite Ansel Elgort as the beloved Gus. Check out The TFiOS FiLE for more info.