Thursday, 5 December 2013


Walt Disney Studios/Buena Vista

Now Showing

When we first meet Sutter Keely, he's in his suburban bedroom writing up his college admission application. In a smart, funny tone, he's telling his prospective university just what kind of a guy he is: carefree, no BS and living for the moment. It's a deceptively light beginning to a film, directed by James Ponsodlt, and adapted by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber from a novel by Tim Tharp, which gradually goes deep and hits hard.

Sutter (an excellent Miles Teller) is charm itself. Always smiling, always on. And never a bad word to say about anyone, not even his recently ex-girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), or her new beau, the high school hero, Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi), whom Sutter even gives tips to on how to be more 'fun'.

Not that that's what Cassidy wants. She broke up with Sutter because she sees no future with someone who only lives for the now and the day-to-day; who is never serious and is always slightly buzzed if not intoxicated. Yes, Sutter has a drinking problem: he's rarely seen without a slushy cup which he laces with the contents of his ever-handy drinking flask.

But The Spectacular Now is not a TV movie-of-the-week about the perils of teen drinking. There's no melodrama or hand-wringing, just as there wasn't in Ponsoldt's previous film, Smashed (2012), which was about a school teacher struggling with her alcoholism. And while there is the inevitable 'drink-driving' accident, it occurs slightly differently to how you expect and with far greater impact.

That's partly because it involves Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a fellow classmate of Sutter's who he's never really spoken to before. That is until she finds him sleeping on a lawn during her early morning paper route; a meet-cute which begins an initially beautiful but ultimately one-sided relationship: Aimee becomes his Geometry tutor and prom date, while Sutter views her as the wallflower whom he's coaxing out of her shell whilst he waits for Cassidy to come to her senses and take him back.

Just as Logan Lerman did last year in The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Miles Teller steps up to the plate and hits it out of the park. While good in both Rabbit Hole (2010) and the 2011 Footloose remake, Teller brings a whole other level of performance and character to Sutter Keely. Effusive charm masking a pain which is anaesthetized by alcohol, his happy-go-lucky nature is the front he puts on for the world: if he doesn't laugh, or make others do so, he may just fall apart. Like an alcoholic in a 12 Step program, Sutter's taking it one day at a time.

Shailene Woodley is excellent, too. Her Aimee is a 180-degree shift from her angsty teen turn in The Descendants (2011). Wide-eyed and honest, she has the nervous smile of an oft overlooked girl who can't believe that someone like Sutter Keely would be interested in someone like her. Aimee's a smart girl with a bright future, and Woodley deftly balances her mix of intelligence and trepidation.

They're an impressive double act in an impressive film. The Spectacular Now may not work the tear ducts so easily as the aforementioned coming-of-age tale, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, but there is real emotion and plenty of heart in this small indie.

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