The 400-Word Review: The Spectacular Now

By Sean Collier

September 3, 2013

They're trying to figure out what the hell a jukebox is.

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Some of the long, beautiful shots in The Spectacular Now capture the uncertain enthusiasm of the teenage years better than any movie I can recall. It’s almost uncanny; very few films feel so familiar and evocative, but this one does it with apparent ease.

Directed by James Ponsoldt (Smashed) and adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer) from Tim Tharp’s novel, The Spectacular Now opens with the first bit of dynamic narration from its protagonist, Sutter (Miles Teller). To hear him tell it, he’s a beloved star of the senior class, a life-of-the-party joker with a heart of gold; sure, his girlfriend (Brie Larson) dumped him, but that’s just a hiccup. He’s a king in his prime.

When he wakes up on the lawn of wallflower Aimee (Shailene Woodley), though, he finds himself drawn towards someone who operates outside social circles. As they begin, fumbling and confused, to spend time together, their gravity pulls Sutter towards a greater understanding of his life. Unfortunately, it also exposes Aimee to dangers she was keeping at bay.


The Spectacular Now tangles with the darker realities of teenage life — alcoholism, broken homes, unpromising futures — but avoids maudlin territory by keeping the results realistic instead of apocalyptic. (Without spoiling anything, I was waiting for a specific tragedy to occur; the fact that it was sidestepped is a testament to the writers.)

Sutter and Aimee’s relationship is everything that the plastic couplings in most teen flicks — Twilight and its supernatural ilk especially — are not. Teller shows a lot of promise; he’s spent some time stuck in terrible material (Project X, 21 & Over) and shows here what an injustice that was. The heart of the movie, though, is Woodley; already acclaimed for her performance in The Descendants, she reveals qualities here that may be unparalleled in actresses of her generation.

I’m not sure if its coincidence or trend, but three of the best films of 2013 — The Spectacular Now, The Way, Way Back and Kings of Summer — have been about teenagers figuring things out. Maybe that’s a response to the comedic manchild that’s dominated cinemas for years; these films remind us that many people do actually grow up, many of them while they’re still young. Whatever the explanation, 2013 is becoming the year of the wistful teenager; The Spectacular Now is the best of the bunch.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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