The Spectacular Now

1 Sep

Spoilers follow etc.

I think I might like The Spectacular Now. I need to let it marinate for a while. My feelings are mixed and I am conflicted. The first half of the movie was bad. I did not like it. It hit you hard and fast and often with “this is a high school movie”. I’m really not into that. It had all the high school movie stereotypes and archetypes. The characters and events were neither nuanced or interesting. I’m not the kind of guy who walks out of movies, but if I was, I probably would have left this one.

Things improved once Sutter and Aimee* got together for good. It was like a different movie from that point on. It stopped being mostly about high school and started being about alcoholism, which was unexpected and welcome. The director is James Ponsoldt. I haven’t seen his first two movies, but they’re both also about alcoholism. I guess he’s an expert by now. He definitely seemed more assured in the second half. Although that’s kind of a backhanded compliment and I don’t think the first-half problems were really his fault. More of a script issue. I think a big part of it is that within the confines of a high school it’s impossible to imbue a story with any real stakes. If you’re not in high school it’s all easily recognizable as dumb bullshit. I certainly didn’t care about any of the characters at first. I wasn’t given any reason to. That didn’t change until the movie turned and started being about Sutter and Aimee and their families and drinking problems etc.

*Yes, Aimee. Christ. That is NOT how you spell Amy. When they showed her name on screen my heart sank.

The midpoint tone change also gave Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley a chance to do something other than be obnoxious and high schooly. I thought they both did a good job; Ms. Woodley more so than Mr. Teller. He wasn’t bad or anything, but he seemed less comfortable than his scene partner. Maybe that’s unfair. He had a much more demanding role. Plus Shailene is a lot more experienced and I thought she was almost as good here as she was in The Descendants. She’s been on one of those teen dramas on ABC Family or something for like five years. That was an unexpected discovery. I wouldn’t have thought of that kind of show as a breeding ground for capable actors. Maybe I’m wrong. Michelle Williams did come out of Dawson’s Creek, after all. Maybe I need to rethink that whole genre.

Mr. Teller is at his best in the scenes between Sutter and his family. I thought he seemed a lot more natural there. Plus those scenes were a lot meatier than most of the other stuff. Maybe I’m just too focused on the parts of the movie I didn’t like. Sutter and Aimee visiting Sutter’s dad was uncomfortable and sad in a really believable way. The hesitancy of the kids, the way everyone tried a little too hard to be casual, the way Dad eventually got actually casual and ditched the kids, was affecting without being heavy-handed. The dinner party with Sutter’s sister was also that way. Until they ended it with the dumbass toast. Could have done without that. A lot of the endgame scenes similarly went a bit over the line for me. Some of the dramatics from Sutter got eyerolls from me. I guess that’s a bit subjective though. I bet that worked for a lot of people.

I want to talk about the car accident. There’s nothing like a surprise car accident in a movie. I was totally surprised by this one. And it worked within the context of the movie. Even though the aftermath looked a lot less severe than I would expect. It’s a movie, fine. I can accept that. Shoutout to Meet Joe Black, by the way. The Citizen Kane of the genre.

This is the only part of the movie I’ve seen. Feels like I don’t need to see any more.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is Miles Teller’s mom. She’s probably still most famous for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and now she’s playing the mom. Time flies.

No one as pretty as Shailene Woodley is unpopular in high school. I know it’s a movie and whatever, but this trope is so tiresome that it needs to be pointed out every time until some brave director casts a woman who doesn’t look like a movie star in a movie like this.

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