Based on its posters and trailer, you might expect “Spectacular Now” to be a “feel good” movie about young romance. On the contrary, this new movie is much more serious. It tells the story of Sutter Keely, a 17-year-old high school senior. Sutter is a “party boy” who drinks way too much. He is bright, but seems to have no interest in going to college. He doesn’t even seem to care whether he graduates from high school or not. Sutter’s main interests are partying and dating the most popular girls in school.
One morning, Aimee, one of Sutter’s classmates, finds Sutter passed out in her yard. Sutter doesn’t know where he is, how he got there, or what happened to his car. He doesn’t even recognize Aimee, much less know her name. Aimee doesn’t run around with the popular crowd. She is a smart girl who draws well and likes to read science fiction. When he’s told he is likely to fail geometry, Sutter asks Aimee to tutor him. Aimee agrees to help him. Then Sutter decides to ask Aimee out. He’s not that interested in Aimee, but is on the “rebound” from dating popular Cassidy, and has no one else to ask. To Sutter’s surprise, he actually finds himself drawn to Aimee.
As it turns out, both Sutter and Aimee are being raised in single parent households. Aimee’s father is dead; Sutter’s father left long ago. Sutter wants to see his father and have a relationship with him, but his mother refuses to let Sutter know where his father is. Both of these young people grieve the loss of their fathers.
Sutter continues to drink heavily. He is seldom without a large “big gulp” cup which has more than soda in it. When he is without the cup, he has a flask in his pocket. The amount of underage drinking in the movie is disturbing, as is a bedroom scene between Sutter and Aimee. Sutter introduces Aimee to drinking. The movie doesn’t condone their drinking. Rather, it sees Sutter’s drinking as a symptom of his poor self-concept, connected to his longing for his father. Eventually the drinking contributes to Sutter’s loss of his job in a men’s clothing store. Sutter’s mother tries to reach out to Sutter, but he has little to do with her, assuming that she is responsible for his father’s absence.
“The Spectacular Now” benefits greatly from the performances by its two young leads: Miles Teller as Sutter and especially Shailene Woodley (who was so good as George Clooney’s older daughter in “The Descendants”) as Aimee. The movie is to be commended for not making light of Miles and his troubles. It’s unclear at the end whether he will change or not. But that’s true to life; we don’t know how people will turn out. Certainly his relationship with Aimee, as well as a meeting with his father, forces Sutter to take a closer look at himself and his future if he doesn’t change.
“The Spectacular Now” is not exactly a spectacular movie. It’s not long, but it doesn’t move well. And did I mention all the underage drinking? Still, I liked Sutter and Aimee enough to pull for them and hope they make the right choices so that they can move from the now to a promising future.
Tom Condon, OP