1. Arts & Entertainment

Review: 'The Spectacular Now' is wise beyond its years

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller star as a good girl and a partier in a remarkably honest teenage romance based on a lauded book.
Published Aug. 22, 2013

The Spectacular Now (R) (95 min.) — Sutter Keely is a happy drunk, which a high school senior shouldn't be. Honestly he isn't. Happy, that is. Sutter is a drunk, but a functioning life of the keg party so folks don't notice, or else want to be his friend so badly they won't say anything.

Especially Aimee Finicky, the honor roll mouse whose house is where Sutter awakens hungover on the lawn. Aimee could use any friend seeing past her pimples and grow-into-it nose to notice the promising young woman inside. Sutter notices, envying what he isn't, bent on living in the moment — the spectacular now — as he does. In case of love, who changes first?

Director James Ponsoldt reshapes this question into a remarkably honest teenage romance, tentative at first and then full of complications, eager pledges and breakthrough kisses. Neither Sutter nor Aimee issues ultimatums, but each wants the other to change. Rubbing off on each other only confuses the emotion. John Hughes, meet John Cassavetes.

These are chunky roles for two gifted young actors — Miles Teller as Sutter and Shailene Woodley as Aimee — who shared an acting award at the Sundance Film Festival. Theirs is a startlingly intuitive chemistry, not just the appearance of reading each other's thoughts but conveying them to us. We're never certain of Sutter's sincerity, or Aimee's self-regard, as they probably aren't in their heads.

The Spectacular Now is adapted from Tim Tharp's novel by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, in a far different style but with similarly surprising depth as their (500) Days of Summer screenplay. Ponsoldt's pacing fuses with his characters, allowing emotion to trickle out in extended takes, which can also lead to feeling that the movie is stuck in its tracks at times.

Ponsoldt understands the high school dynamic through which Sutter and Aimee navigate polar social orbits. Each hurts their status with friends, affects the other's grades. Only once does The Spectacular Now stoop to abrupt crisis, but that's Tharp's fault, shuffled along quickly by the adapted screenplay.

The script also offers Kyle Chandler fans to again wonder why he isn't a big movie star yet, playing Sutter's long-absent, alcoholic father, an oak barrel the acorn didn't fall far from. Not to forget Brie Larson as Sutter's over-it former girlfriend, whose impact on Aimee's feelings is solely Sutter's fault. As a wisely devised teenage drama, The Spectacular Now treats kids and adults respectfully, even their foolish weaknesses. That respect extends to the audience. Opens Wednesday. A-

Steve Persall, Times movie critic


  1. BurgerFi builds its signature cheeseburger with two Angus beef patties, double American cheese, lettuce, tomato and house sauce. Courtesy of BurgerFi
    Ring in National Cheeseburger Day, watch Bad Religion play Jannus Live or laugh with YouTubers Drew Gooden and Danny Gonzalez.
  2. Two western lowland gorillas at Busch Gardens were part of the successful Budweiser ad campaign during Super Bowl XLI. Sim Sim, left, and Cenzoo, right, helped sell Bud Light. BUSCH GARDENS  |  Tampa Tribune
    Sim Sim’s claim to fame was a 2007 Bud Light commercial.
  3. Hoisin-glazed chicken meatballs. LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI  |  Special to the Times
    They’re topped with a hoisin sauce, and can be baked or pan-fried.
  4. On Friday, Joella's Hot Chicken will debut the Southern menu its known for in Largo. Joella's Hot Chicken
    Best part? There’s a drive-through.
  5. A still image from Vice's "WTFlorida?!" episode on Paul Flart. Courtesy of Vice
    Short documentaries on Floridians like hurricane headbanger Lane Pittman and Polk security guard “Paul Flart” expand their stories.
  6. FILE - In this May 5, 2019, file photo Alex Trebek poses in the press room at the 46th annual Daytime Emmy Awards at the Pasadena Civic Center in Pasadena, Calif. Trebek said Tuesday, Sept. 17, that he’s had a setback in his battle with pancreatic cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy again. RICHARD SHOTWELL  |  Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
    After a short period of optimism when he stopped chemotherapy, his “numbers shot up” and doctors ordered him back on the treatment.
  7. Visitors ride the Cheetah Hunt roller coaster at Tampa theme park Busch Gardens, which has put its 2020 Fun Card on sale early. AP/Busch Gardens
    Buy your 2020 Busch Gardens or SeaWorld Fun Card and get a few months free, plus more sales for Florida residents.
  8. Larry Duran, a 12-piece Latin band, will perform at the Hispanic Heritage Festival of Hernando County Sept. 21 at the Lake House. Vivian Rivera-Hernandez
  9. Jimmy Buffett performed at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on June 6, 2017. JAY CRIDLIN  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The quintessential Florida Man and his Coral Reefer Band hit town for the holidays.
  10. In this image taken from NASA video actor Brad Pitt, left, star of the new space movie “Ad Astra,” speaks from NASA headquarters in Washington, to astronaut Nick Hague abroad the International Space Station, on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. AP
    In a televised call Monday, NASA astronaut Nick Hague answered Pitt — “absolutely” — getting a big laugh.