The Spectacular Now
by Hope Madden
The Spectacular Now suffers slightly from high expectations. National critics quickly heralded the film the summer’s best, and its quirky indie pedigree is tough to argue. The film marks Shailene Woodley’s first feature since her breathtaking turn in The Descendents. Penned by the duo that delivered 500 Days of Summer, directed by Smashed helmsman James Ponsoldt, and starring the charmingly charismatic, damaged doofus Miles Teller, the film’s buzz certainly felt potentially deserved.
A popular, life-of-the-party high school senior rebounds from a break up by dating a quiet, hard-working, nice girl. Brace yourself, there’s no make-over, no peer pressure, no angst.
No angst – what?!
It’s true. In fact, it is the film’s fresh approach that makes the safe decisions and clichés stand out. For a high school romance with an edge, The Spectacular Now is an engaging dramedy boasting stronger scripting and far superior performances than what you find in other likeminded works. Indeed, it sparkles in comparison to similar genre titles – the sickeningly overrated Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example.
Polsoldt never drapes his high school romance in nostalgia – a common mistake in films such as these – but looks at the situation with the clear view his protagonist lacks. With a handful of exceptions, the writing holds up, and when it doesn’t, credit Teller and especially Woodley for the sheer talent to buoy the occasional weak scripting.
Woodley, who wowed audiences with her turn as the thoroughly modern, cynical teen in Descendents, shows true range that proves her wealth of talent.
Viewers who remember Teller from his recent work in Project X and 21 and Over may see the young actor as a one-trick pony, again playing the likeable screw up with an alcohol dependency. In his performance here, though, we glimpse a bit of the nuance and power fans of his turn in 2010’s Rabbit Hole will remember.
Unfortunately, The Spectacular Now falls too conveniently into a formula framed by the dreaded college essay. Ponsoldt lets his crisis off the hook far too simply, and where the resolution should have felt appropriately ambiguous, it instead seems superficially settled.
But cast that all aside and drink in two of the most fully crafted teens ever to hit the screen. The team of Ponsoldt, Woodley and Teller plumb for that bittersweet combination of longing, confidence, vulnerability and potential that marks adolescence. While his film may be merely better than average, his leads are truly spectacular.