Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

20 August 2013

LOTS of Drinking: Part Two

I'm not sure if I can actually be smart about why I liked The Spectacular Now as much as I did, but I am going to try.

The Spectacular Now is a rather simple drama on the face of it. High-school kid Sutter is a fun-loving guy who spends most of his time drinking, partying, and cruising around town in his car instead of focusing on his future or spending time with his family accidentally wakes up on someone else's lawn after an evening of blackout-level drinking. This isn't a drama about alcoholism, so it's not like he has a rude awakening or anything, instead Sutter wakes up to the face of the relatively plain and unassuming Aimee Finecky.

They start hanging out, and since Sutter and his cute/hot girlfriend of two years have recently broken up, Sutter spends more time with Aimee. No one has ever really taken any notice of her, and she falls for Tucker hard. The whole thing is very sweet in a non-cloying, non-clichéd, non-She's-All-That kind of way.

This is a movie about high-school-age young people, so this is a coming-of-age story and a story about taking responsibility, saying no to the other adults in one's life so that one can become one's own adult. Like every film about high school, The Spectacular Now is also filled with awkward, silly decisions made by people who think they know a great deal about the world, but in fact know just as little as the rest of us.

What makes James Ponsoldt's film excellent, though, is the way that it manages to eschew most of the usual clichés of this genre, the way it demonstrates just how much fun Sutter is, and the way the director deftly follows Sutter's alcoholism in a way that allows it to make sense (there were times when I thought I wish he wouldn't drink so much, but... he's so fun when he's drinking. Oh, who cares: let him drink! I want him to keep being fun.)

Mr. Teller
And then there are the performances. Shailene Woodley, who was this close to scoring an Oscar nomination for her role in The Descendants a couple years ago is awkward and lovely: it's a gorgeously natural performance. And Miles Teller, who was the teenager who accidentally killed Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart's kid in Rabbit Hole, is unbelievably good. I found his performance to be absolutely revelatory. He is just incredible: naturally buoyant and fun, he lifts every scene with his impeccable timing, his easy flow from line to line, his beautiful way of giving away his feelings while appearing to attempt to hide everything. We understand Sutter through and through, and even though he makes mistake after mistake, treats his girlfriend like a total asshole, has a serious drinking problem, and can't figure out how to be anything resembling polite to his mother, I loved this boy. Teller is just excellent.

In any case, The Spectacular Now is just a movie about high-schoolers figuring out the world. It's not groundbreaking or life-changing, but I found it deeply moving. And in this time where most filmic ways of looking at characters are ironic or cynical or even smug, The Spectacular Now looks at its troubled central character with humanity and deep affection. I don't see that very often at the movies, and when I do, I am glad of it.