It’s been done a hundred times on film. Cool guy meets quiet, nerdy girl. Romance ensues. “She’s All That.” “Pretty in Pink.” “16 Candles.” Those are the first three that popped into my head. They are also three of the better ones. Now it’s time to add another film to the list. And it might be the best one yet.
Sutter Keeley (Teller) is THE party guy. As he works towards completing his senior year in high school he maintains a set schedule. School. Work. Party. And no matter where he is (school, work or party) he’s always accompanied by his trusty flask. Sutter has a problem. When his girlfriend dumps him he compounds that problem several times over only to wake up on the lawn of Aimee Finicky (Woodley), a classmate he doesn’t even know. Aimee likes Manga (Japanese comics) and is planning on going to college. Sutter barely plans for the next day. But despite their obvious differences the two seem to connect in a way that will change both of them.
Based on the novel by Tim Tharp, “The Spectacular Now” is a heartfelt look at love and life told honestly through the eyes of those experiencing it. I had some reservations at the beginning of the film. Sutter was working his friends like Jonah Hill in “Superbad” and, for a brief moment, I resigned myself to watch another standard teen comedy. Then he meets Aimee. Both of them grew up without a father and that fact gives them a bond. Sutter tells Aimee his father is an airplane pilot and never around. Sutter lives with his mother (where have you been Jennifer Jason Leigh) and works at the local men’s clothing store. Aimee’s home life is similar, except her job is covering for her mother on a paper route. Needing help in class to pass Sutter asks Aimee to help tutor him. Of course the time spent together brings them closer. But sometimes you have to lose the things you love to appreciate them.
I really loved Miles Teller when he played Willard in the remake of “Footloose.” He showed a lot of promise for a long career. He lost a lot of that, in my opinion, in this past March’s “21 and Over.” But he earns it back, in spades, here. We see behind Teller’s eyes the pain he’s trying to drink away. When Aimee finally does get to meet good old dad (an outstanding Kyle Chandler) it’s easy to see why Sutter has problems. What’s amazing here is that Sutter understands he has a problem. When his boss (Bob Odenkirk) tells him he needs to stop drinking or lose his job Sutter doesn’t hesitate to tell him he can’t stop drinking. He just quits. “I guess if I were your father I’d begin lecturing you now,” his boss tells him. “If YOU were my father you wouldn’t have to,” is Sutter’s reply. Equally as good is Woodley, who was robbed of a much deserved Oscar nomination a few years ago for “The Descendants.” Here she strips away all pretense (like the rest of the cast, Woodley wears no make-up) to give a performance that is raw and nuanced. First love is an amazing thing. And credit the filmmakers for not dramatizing the fateful “first time.” In so many films it’s portrayed as serious and painful, almost like a punishment. Here it is shown the way I remember it…nervous banter and a lot of giggling.