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“The Spectacular Now”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Spectacular Now” (A24)

 

Perhaps Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “True terror is to wake up and discover that your high
school class is running the country.”

Underachieving high school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is the class clown, the genial, flask-toting life of every party he attends, but after he’s dumped by his beautiful, blonde girl-friend Cassidy (Brie Larson), he’s completely adrift – and drinking far too much whiskey. Until he awakens one morning and finds himself sprawled on the lawn in front of the home of fresh-faced Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley); he’s so plastered that he’s unable to remember where he parked his car. Unlike either Sutter or Cassidy, studious, level-headed Aimee personifies innocence and goodness. That’s why Sutter’s buddy Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi) and Aimee’s friend Krystal (Kaitlyn Dever) fear that perennially intoxicated Sutter will break Aimee’s heart.

Adapted from Tim Tharp’s 2008 novel by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (“500 Days of
Summer”) and subtly directed by James Ponsoldt (“Smashed”), this comedic drama delves into the effects of broken homes on fragile teenagers.  Nine years earlier, Sutter’s mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a hard-working nurse, divorced his father Thomas (Kyle Chandler), whom Sutter hasn’t seen since, although his married older sister Holly (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) apparently has. And Aimee’s demanding, widowed mother clings so tightly to Aimee that her going away to college seems out of the question. In order to grow up and move on, both adolescents must confront their uneasy parents and resolve their respective conflicts.

What makes this coming-of-age melodrama work is Miles Teller’s (“Footloose”) naturalistic, unpretentiously charming performance, countered by the genuine guilelessness exuded by Shaileen Woodley (“The Descendants”). Filmed in and around Athens, Georgia, it exemplifies small-town America.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Spectacular Now” is a compassionate 7, striking a bittersweetnote of unaffected authenticity as the summer concludes.

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