The Spectacular Now Is Raw, Honest, and Authentic

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now. Courtesy of A24.

The Spectacular Now, a coming-of-age romantic drama, marked the tenth anniversary of its theatrical release this past summer.

“I don’t live in the past. I live in the now because that’s what it’s all about.” – Tommy Keely (Kyle Chandler)

This is the sort of movie that just shows what it means to be a teenager in the moment. It feels very different from other films in the coming-of-age genre and 2013 had plenty to offer on that account. Unlike a lot of other coming-of-age movies, the film is just raw and honest in what it has to offer. Could it be a film that John Hughes might make had been making films in the 2000s? Quite possibly. It’s not an understatement to say that they don’t make films like this anymore. More importantly, this is a film that came during an era where studios were really pushing the big studio IP. Smaller films, even those premiering at Sundance, also have a tougher time finding an audience these days.

High school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) writes a college admissions essay after breaking up with Cassidy Roy (Brie Larson). He follows this up by going to a bar and blacking out drunk. Next thing Sutter knows, Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) wakes him up while she’s on her paper route. He doesn’t know Aimee before this point but the two of them start getting to know each other. At some point in their blooming relationship, the two decide to make a pact to stand up to their mothers. Aimee’s dad died of an overdose while Sutter’s father, Tommy, was kicked out. The two go through a lot and even when the film cuts at the end, you just know they’ll be okay. They might go their own separate ways at some point but they are living in the moment for now.

At one point, 500 Days of Summer filmmaker Marc Webb was attached to the film. This was back when the film was with Searchlight Pictures. Webb left to work on The Amazing Spider-Man and then the studio lost the rights. That’s also how Oscar-nominated screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber first came on board. The screenwriters are among the best writers working today and work their brilliance in adapting Tim Tharp’s novel for the screen. They should have gotten an Oscar nomination for their work here but the category featured stacked competition. James Ponsoldt replaced Webb and works his magic with the actors on set. Both Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley have amazing chemistry in the film, which preceded their costarring in the Divergent movies.

Maybe it’s just because they don’t make films like they used to but this film improved for me upon rewatching for a delayed anniversary viewing. It’s been ten years but it feels like a breath of fresh air compared to similar films I’ve watched in the genre. On the one hand, this is what happens when everything is working correctly. But on the other hand, what does it say about society that they just don’t make them like they used to? The rawness and honesty of the film leads me to wonder if my high school life might have been different from the hell that it was. Had I known what was happening with me at the time, of course.

The initial edit was nearly two and a half hours long. Ultimately, the final cut is a film that cut an about an hour out of the rough cut. This is for the best. While I’m sure a longer run time could work, the film does exactly what it needs to do in just over an hour and a half.

The beauty of watching The Spectacular Now is that Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are just living in the moment, in the now. What is so refreshing is that it is a coming-of-age film without werewolves or vampires! At the end of the day, this is just a coming-of-age film that depicts teenagers being teenagers and isn’t that just great.

DIRECTOR: James Ponsoldt
SCREENWRITERS: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
CAST: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Bob Odenkirk, Kaitlyn Dever, Andre Royo, Masam Holden, Dayo Okeniyi, with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyle Chandler

A24 released The Spectacular Now in theaters on August 2, 2013. Grade: 5/5

Please subscribe to Dugout Dirt and Solzy at the Movies on Substack.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.