At this point Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley don’t really have to prove anything to anybody. In 2010 he broke out with a great turn starring alongside Nicole Kidman in the deep drama Rabbit Hole, and was the best part of Craig Brewer’s Footloose; while she caught many movie-goers’ attention with her stand-out part playing George Clooney’s daughter in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants and has already parlayed that success into landing the role as Mary-Jane Watson in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But just because we’re not surprised by the blisteringly incredible performances they give in James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now doesn’t diminish who truly great they are.
Based on the novel by Tim Tharp and adapted by (500) Days of Summer writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the film centers on Sutter Keely (Teller), a senior in high school and fun-loving alcoholic who strictly lives by his philosophy of living in the now. After being dumped by his girlfriend (Brie Larson), he meets fellow classmate Aimee (Woodley), an innocent girl who has never had a boyfriend before. Sutter expects her to be done with him by the end of the year as she matures and moves past him, but as their relationship and emotional bond gets stronger they both begin to grow together.
It’s hard to describe just how incredible the two stars are just because of how deeply they fall into their characters. Teller brings a fun, irrepressible charm that connects you to Sutter in both the light times and the dark, and Woodley is able to do the same by giving Aimee the perfect blend of innocence and strength. Both are thrown some deeply emotional scenes, but their performers are completely invisible, and you can’t help but just feel sucked in and invested in them. It would also be a horrific mistake not to mention the brief-but-terrific supporting turns by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but there’s no denying who the standouts really are.
The Spectacular Now is a powerful film and a big reason it’s able to maintain its emotional punch is by never being preachy or over-dramatic. In the hands of lesser filmmakers the story would focus on how the wayward youths find their way back to the straight and narrow, but instead Ponsoldt respects his mature, mixed-up, problem troubled characters and doesn’t use them to talk down to the viewer. Sutter is clearly an alcoholic, but the film never forces judgment on him – instead it’s authentic about the psychological and physical consequences and lets the audience assess him themselves. The movie is also just as much a comedy as it is a drama, with multiple laugh-out-loud moments and charming scenes. It’s an emotionally honest film that earns its weight.
The Spectacular Now is a movie you’re going to be hearing about for the entire year. It got its start at the Sundance Film Festival in January – where it got an explosive response after its world premiere – and that buzz is going to continue all the way through its eventual theatrical release and on to award season. It’s simply to phenomenal to ignore.
For more of our SXSW 2013 coverage, click HERE.