Waxing [Cinematically] The Spectacular Now

Hollywood has gotten really, really good at retelling the same story. Going to see movies these days, I can’t help but shake the “I’ve seen this play out before” feeling, or predicting an ending, or being disappointed that a director/writer didn’t take a turn when they had an opportunity.

If there’s one thing to single out about The Spectacular Now, it would be its originality. The movie is a fresh dose of the non-cliche, which is all the more impressive as it drops you in the one the most cliche-laden scenes that movies love; high school.

The movie is based on a book, written by the guys who did 500 Days of Summer, and stars a new actor, Miles Teller, and an actress in Shailene Woodley that has now nailed two consecutive roles I’ve seen her in (her work in the Descendants demanded some serious attention). If these components were what brought the freshness, kudos to all involved.

Apparently, Michael Weber, one of the writers, described the film, and specifically the main character, Sutter, as “Ferris Bueller [who] gives bad advice”. That makes a lot of sense — only his advice isn’t all that bad. In fact, some of it is gold, particularly once he’s learned his lesson, it just takes him a while to get there. And, well, he’s drunk in every other scene.

If there were another thing to single out about The Spectacular Now it would be the gratuitous drunk driving scenes. It’s almost appalling, but it’s used to illustrate his character, and so you put it at ease. Still, once he involves Amy, the love interest, you start ot tense up a bit in the movie theater. You’ve seen this go down. Except he doesn’t get into an accident (well not really), and he doesn’t ruin his life drunk driving, he actually kind of gets away with it. Another turn away from cliche.

Sutter is a smart kid. He sees a serious truth in a lot of those people around him. He even sees it in himself but has some fear (one would assume of some abandonment) that prevents him from approaching his own growth. His dad left when he was young, and so we get a boy that doesn’t want to leave anything. Not his school, not his party life, not his ex-girlfriend, not his job, etc… It’s sad, but you can feel the truth in it.

And Woodley’s Amy, well gosh talk about a perfect portrayal of how pathetic we can be in our first love. She is obsessed with Sutter. Ignores his faults, loves him immediately and wants to change her life in any way that would please him. That’s first love. That’s what it’ll do to you.

Because it took pains to avoid cliche, it came off as raw as anything you’ll see these days — particularly from a pair of young actors. It tugged at the heart, though I have to admit I was expected a bit more of a tug (I blame it on the fucking excellent trailer). If it had a fault it was in some of the other actors around Teller and Woodley, or maybe even that the movie wasn’t that long (high school drama can feel like forever, they could’ve played with that) — but neither was 500 days….

Trying to be objective, I give it a 8.6. I’ll see it again. I’ll show some people. It didn’t bring on those wounds that some movies can, but it’s the closest one to come to that in a while.

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