Another coming of age movie? I’m not complaining as I love the genre. It’s surprising how many we’ve gotten this year. I heard wonderful things about it out of the Sundance Film Festival. Sadly I didn’t find this as well crafted and hard hitting as some of the other in the genre this year. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t impressed in certain aspects. Director James Pondolt has created a raw and sometimes dark coming of age film.
Perhaps being a bit too adult with its themes and story, The Spectacular Now reaches to the stars in ambition. Sometimes it even does become spectacular! From its balance of characters to story and themes we are given a lot to chew on. It doesn’t all taste great unfortunately. The movie is like Ice Cream with too many flavors mixed in, yet it still manages to be sweet.
Where the film thrives is the performances that create authentic characters. Miles Teller as Sutter has a charisma and likability that reminded me of John Cusack from Say Anything. This doesn’t give him a great boombox moment but he’s a solid character. Sutter is on top of the world. He’s got the perfect girlfriend played by Brie Larson (who deserved more screen time) and everyone loves him. Of course there’s more to him than meets the eye. He has a drinking problem that feels overdone as if they wanted it to be a central theme. It just doesn’t fit in the story and at times is forced. Particularly because where the film shines is the love story between Sutter and Aimee, played beautifully by Shailene Woodley. Her performance is subtle and intimate as a girl getting swept up in young love. At first Sutter uses the naïve Aimee for his own benefit but complications occur and they fall for each other. It’s all tastefully handled by staying sensitive to the characters and pumping nostalgia into its viewers.
Sutter longs for a relationship with his father and it provides a morally interesting side story but ultimately distances itself from the relationship between Sutter and Aimee. It’s at this point that the movie distinguishes itself as a movie about Sutter. This is troublesome because Aimee feels like a more interesting and nuanced character. There’s multiple side stories I found a bit tiresome and that’s because the love story is so great. This is a film about devastating actions one can have on others. It’s an interesting take on a coming of age film but I don’t think the themes and characters mesh together and create a whole. There’s some character decisions in the third act that felt very forced. It’s as if the plot is purposely trying to avoid the trappings and clichés of a basic coming of age movie.
Embracing clichés can be a powerful tool. Some aspects here feel a bit too dark and adult. This kept me from getting into the character of Sutter. It’s clear he has a big problem but I felt as if the movie was trying too hard. It’s fine to take a darker look at teen life but this feels slightly off. As if the direction and script were not on the same page. The main theme just didn’t have a giant impact because it doesn’t fully earn it through characters and their interactions. A film that perfectly centers on a main character while also using other characters intimately and building themes almost flawlessly is The Perks Of Being A Wallfower. I have to mention it because I feel as thought this attempted a similar style. I always admire ambition and I certainly enjoyed it here but it ultimately hurts the film. Don’t get me wrong though, the movie gets emotional at points and delivers some twists and turns that felt refreshing. A script that was less cluttered would have delivered a more solid film.
The Spectacular Now is a movie that has all the sensibility and originality of a good coming of age movie. Sometimes its’ handling of teenage characters feels too adult and too ambitious for its own good. The movies foundation never breaks though as its barrage of characters are handled with depth and authenticity. The love story between the shy Aimee and the popular Sutter provides an earnest and nostalgic look at young love. Though its theme is a bit overdone and the characters relationships are sometimes too heavy handed, you can’t deny the power at points. At the end of the movie consider the theme and just ask yourself if you thought it earned that ending? I don’t think it does, but that doesn’t mean the movie has failed. In fact, it soars in areas which is why it deserves a viewing at some point. Director James Pondolt has immense talent behind the camera and I can’t wait to see what he does next. You don’t need to rush out to see it but it’s certainly worth a redbox rental.