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In Neutral, With Feeling

by Laura Leon on September 5, 2013

The Spectacular Now
Directed by James Ponsoldt


The previews would have you think that The Spectacular Now is a comedy following in the steps of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, featuring the class cut-up who is friend to everybody but, famously, predictably unreliable to all. The movie itself is much less a comedy than it is a tender, insightful poem to youth and impending maturity. Sutter (Miles Teller) is the Ferris of this story, the kid everybody relies on for a good time, or a bit of friendly advice, but who has absolutely no faith in himself. When girlfriend Cassidy dumps him for the much more reliable Marcus, he rebounds with Aimee (Shailene Woodley). Sutter thinks that the relationship will be a good thing for her self-confidence, and serve as a stopgap till his next real relationship. Aimee is a girl his friends deem undesirable, but her sweet integrity and pure heart win Sutter over, mostly. See, there are still his unresolved issues of his dad’s departure from the family, and his own feelings of being unworthy of love and respect.

Woodley and Teller in The Spectacular Now

What could have been a self-obsessed sobfest is, instead, a surprisingly deep-felt portrait of a teen stuck, for various reasons, in neutral. Written by Michael H. Webber and Scott Neustadter, the script cleverly, and economically, gives us indications of the various fissures—economic, familial—affecting Sutter and keeping him, as it were, from effectively moving forward. He’s a bit of a fuck-up, but downright likeable, and we, the audience, can’t help but hope that he gets his act together, and that he doesn’t destroy Aimee in the process. At times, the movie feels almost like a documentary, in the sense that director James Ponsoldt is able to evoke such telling, intimate performances from his cast. A standout scene involving Sutter, Aimee and Sutter’s dad (a remarkable Kyle Chandler) is heartbreaking and suspenseful at the same time, but there are many more smaller scenes which also vie for our attention in this subtle, powerful gem.