by Sam Robinson
Rated M. Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley. Directed by James Ponsoldt.
Every now and again you find yourself immersed in a cinema experience that is just so refreshing; a new take on a typical tale. Here, it’s a story of growing up, fitting in, and finding your place in this world. Welcome to The Spectacular Now – one of the best films released in recent years.
The Spectacular Now is a rather unconventional coming of age film. It focusses on popular high school kid Sutter (Teller), whose motto is living in the now. He gives almost no thought to his future, puts no effort into relationships, depends on sneaky swigs of alcohol, and is extremely self-centred. He is dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) and drinks off his sorrows.
Suffering a hangover, he meets Aimee Finecky (Woodley) – a bookish, nerdy girl who agrees to tutor Sutter. Despite their different levels of social status in the schoolyard, it isn’t long until they fall for each other. They realise what unites them is their broken families, and they help each other to navigate struggles: for Sutter, to track down his estranged father, and for Aimee, to stand up to her dependent mother.
As the relationship between the two grows, they discover how much they complement each other. Both Teller and Woodley are just excellent in their roles, and so convincing together in their bashful, blossoming romance. I mentioned in my review of Divergent that Woodley is a star on the rise, and this performance confirms that. This is the sort of film that leaves you hanging on a thread throughout, and comes with the refreshing pace and angst you might expect from a John Hughes film, minus the 80s soundtrack.
Director Ponsoldt effortlessly reminds us what high school was like, as we prepared to plunge into the big wide world of adulthood. He plays up the feeling of invincibility and limitless future pathways, as we experience it through the eyes of these teens, and come to understand their very different skews on life.
Sutter: ‘What’s your “thing”?’
Aimee: ‘I like to think there’s more to a person than just one thing.’
As the film plays out, it’s clear that both Sutter and Aimee have a strong fear of people. Sutter shuts people out, keeps his guard up, and struggles to consider what effect his choices might have on others. Aimee on the other hand fears letting others down, and wants to do the right thing by them. She’s good-natured about it but it controls her.
Fearing people isn’t a problem that only teenagers experience. It’s something that affects all of us throughout our whole lives, from teenage awkwardness to old age. Proverbs 29:25 says:
Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.
When we let others control us, we’re falling into a trap. It captures us, inhibits us, and stops us from freely living for God. But if we trust in him with our present, our future, our relationships, and find our comfort in him, we will have security. Sutter and Aimee learn to find their purpose in each other, but it’s not all smooth sailing. We need to live for the One who created us, and is sovereign in the now, and the future. In him is true belonging.
The Spectacular Now is a wonderful piece of cinema that will challenge, shock, and surprise. Be warned there is language and mature content. It delivers a heart-wrenching story with superb execution. Five stars.
The Spectacular Now is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download.