×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Spectacular Now

Skillfully adapted from Tim Tharp's novel, evocatively lensed in the working-class neighborhoods of Athens, Ga., and tenderly acted by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, this bittersweet ode to the moment of childhood's end builds quietly to a pitch-perfect finale.

With:
With: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Dayo Okeniyi, Bob Odenkirk, Andre Royo.

The scars and blemishes on the faces of the high-school lovers in “The Spectacular Now” are beautifully emblematic of director James Ponsoldt’s bid to bring the American teen movie back to some semblance of reality, a bid that pays off spectacularly indeed. Skillfully adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel, evocatively lensed in the working-class neighborhoods of Athens, Ga., and tenderly acted by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, this bittersweet ode to the moment of childhood’s end builds quietly to a pitch-perfect finale. Warts-and-all authenticity can be a tough sell, but Ponsoldt’s bracing youth pic seems bound to graduate with honors.

Working with a sensitive script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (“500 Days of Summer”), Ponsoldt follows his “Off the Black” and “Smashed” with another insightful study of a flawed protagonist’s hard-fought battle against forces, including alcohol, that keep him or her from growing to fruition. Dumped by his gorgeous girlfriend (Brie Larson) in the early going, whiskey-swilling senior Sutter Keely (Teller) swiftly rebounds by making a charismatic play for book-smart Aimee Finecky (Woodley), who finds him passed out at dawn on a neighbor’s front yard and is astounded when the school’s hungover party monster returns her gaze.

Aimee, having never had a boyfriend, naturally falls hard for the ultra-confident but scholastically challenged Sutter as she tutors him in geometry and he teaches her how to drink. Although Sutter can’t stop mildly flirting with his ex, he makes the moves on Aimee anyway, alarming friends of both. A startlingly intimate sex scene, set in Aimee’s tiny bedroom and hauntingly captured in long take, marks the point at which the possibility of heartbreak begins to loom large.

Whatever formulaic elements appear in the opposites-attract scenario are mitigated by the film’s philosophical underpinnings. While pragmatic Aimee prepares to attend college in Philadelphia, Sutter remains arrogantly committed to his manner of living in the moment, believing that a car, a flask and an hourly wage job are all he’s ever going to need. Sutter’s hardened mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) worries that her son is following in the footsteps of his estranged father and contrives to prevent a reunion of the two.

It’s during the inevitable meeting with Dad (Kyle Chandler), facilitated by Sutter’s well-off sister, Holly (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and held over pitchers of beer, that the film’s principal themes — of the difficulty of breaking the familial mold, the fine line between temporary behavior and habit, and the fleeting nature of youth — begin to take root. Ponsoldt, with the help of Jess Hall’s attentive cinematography, does an excellent job of letting the drama play out on the imperfect faces of his two young leads, both of whom embody a delicate combination of fearlessness and vulnerability.

Woodley thoroughly fulfills the promise of her smaller role as the teenage daughter in “The Descendants,” locating the precise point at which Aimee’s infatuation with Sutter turns to self-protection. Equally impressive is Teller, who makes his character’s adolescent bravado appear intoxicating and then more than a little scary. The film’s supporting players are uniformly superb, particularly a haggard Chandler, who offers a worrisome glimpse of what Sutter could easily become, and Andre Royo as a schoolteacher whose honest reluctance to sell Sutter on the advantages of adulthood silently speaks volumes.

Linda Sena’s production design makes vibrant use of Athens locations while maintaining the small-town setting as Anywhere, U.S.A. Editing by Darrin Navarro respects the pic’s alternately peppy and languorous mood, occasionally using slo-mo to represent Sutter’s desire to stretch now to eternity. Other tech elements are aces, each one furthering the film’s refreshing commitment to naturalism.

Popular on Variety

The Spectacular Now

Production: An Andrew Lauren Prods. presentation of a 21 Laps Entertainment, Global Produce production. (International sales: The Exchange, Brian O'Shea.) Produced by Michelle Krumm, Andrew Lauren, Shawn Levy, Tom McNulty. Directed by James Ponsoldt. Screenplay, Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, from the novel by Tim Tharp.

Crew: Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Jess Hall; editor, Darrin Navarro; music, Rob Simonson; production designer, Linda Sena; costume designer, Peggy Stamper; set decorator, Jessica Royal; sound (Dolby Digital), Thomas Curley, Jim Hawkins; supervising sound editor, Ryan Collins; re-recording mixer, Collins; visual effects supervisor, Matt Bramante; visual effects, Locktix, Siren Digital & Barnstorm VFX; stunt coordinator, Scott Dale; associate producer, Katie Willard Troebs; assistant director, Nicolas D. Harvard; casting, Angela Demo, Barbara J. McCarthy. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 18, 2013. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: With: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Dayo Okeniyi, Bob Odenkirk, Andre Royo.

More Film

  • The Great Outdoor documentary series about

    Farm to Picture: Documentary Series 'The Great Outdoor' Chronicles a Life Gone to Pot

    Cannabis cultivation in the Emerald Triangle, the area in Northern California that has long been a go-to for growers, has a starring role in a new documentary series called “The Great Outdoor.” Funded by Flow Kana, one of the state’s leading cannabis flower brands, filmed by David Zlutnick, and executive-produced by Flow Kana co-founder Flavia [...]

  • 1982 El Gouna Festival

    Egypt's El Gouna Film Festival Puts Arab Helmers at Center Stage

    The upbeat state of Arab cinema will be on the screen and in the balmy air at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival (Sept. 19-27), which is steadily gaining traction in its stated ambition to become a key platform and solid driver for Middle-East producers. “This year was one the best for Arab cinema,” says Intishal [...]

  • Star Skipper Paramount Animation

    Meet Star Skipper, Paramount Animation's Magical New Trademark Logo Character

    Studio logos are powerful signals to audiences.  Multiple generations of moviegoers flipping through channels or scanning streaming titles have frozen at the sight of a desk lamp hopping across the screen, because it means a Pixar movie is about to play. Likewise, when a young boy lounging inside a crescent moon casts his fishing line into [...]

  • Sybil

    Cannes Competition Movie 'Sibyl' Finds North American Home With Music Box (EXCLUSIVE)

    Music Box Films has acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to Justine Triet’s darkly comic drama “Sibyl,” which competed at Cannes and had its North American premiere at Toronto in the Special Presentation section. Represented in international markets by mk2, the film follows the ambiguous relationship between Sibyl, a jaded psychotherapist (Virginie Efira, “An Impossible [...]

  • Kent Jones Directs 'Diane'

    Kent Jones to Exit New York Film Festival (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a surprise move, New York Film Festival’s director and selection committee chair of seven years Kent Jones will step down following this year’s 57th edition, which runs Sept. 27-Oct. 13. The departure comes as Jones’ feature filmmaking career is taking off. Issues of potential conflicts of interest have arisen as his work has moved [...]

  • Ava-Mark-Split

    Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo Selected for SAG-AFTRA Foundation Honors

    Ava DuVernay and Mark Ruffalo have been selected by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation for its fourth Annual Patron of the Artists Awards. The awards will be presented on Nov. 7 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The show benefits the nonprofit SAG-AFTRA Foundation and is not televised. Previous SAG-AFTRA Foundation Patron of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content