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The Spectacular Now (2013)


J.A.A. Purves
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(A&F link to Smashed (2012).)

The Guardian:

It speaks volumes of this intelligently nuanced and thoroughly warm-hearted feature that the issue of alcohol abuse can be addressed in such a subtle and non-aggressive manner. Director James Ponsoldt, who explored the grim, everyday realities of the disease in last year's Smashed, has deftly woven the topic into his latest narrative to such an extent, one almost forgets it's there.

Adapted from Tim Tharp's Novel by the (500) Days of Summer team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, The Spectacular Now is an absorbing coming-of-age tale, in which a cocky, troubled teen named Sutter (Miles Teller) is forced to confront both his fears and his future ...

Young adulthood is rarely portrayed with such conviction, in a manner that connects with both its core teen audience and a wider adult demographic. Stephen Chbosky's recent teen affair, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, springs to mind, as a film that longed for energy such as this.

 

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I tend to find embargo questions tedious, but I was wondering if any of my critic friends could suggest ways of letting people know that a film you've seen which is inexplicably under embargo (in your region) but might actually be playing where they live is the best film you've seen all year. 

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Roger Ebert wrote a review of this film that was filed away for use at Ebertfest, and has recently been brought to light with this films U.S. release: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-spectacular-now-2013

 

Here is a lovely film about two high school seniors who look, speak and feel like real 18-year-old middle-American human beings. Do you have any idea how rare that is? They aren't crippled by irony. They aren't speeded up into cartoons. Their sex lives aren't insulted by scenes that treat them cheaply. The story requires them to make love, but it doesn't insist we see her tits. Sutter and Aimee are smart, but they make dumb mistakes. They're more confident on the outside than on the inside. They're very serious about life, although Sutter, the boy, makes an effort to conceal that.

Edited by Benchwarmer
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My review posts tomorrow, but it was only after I'd submitted it that I listened to the Dissolve's podcast on the film. In it, one of the participants (a female) mentions something that didn't occur to me until she said it: The Shailene Woodley character sort of disappears from the movie's second half. That's a problem if, like me, you found her to be the more interesting character in the film.

 

This is Sutter's story, but his character, while well played by Miles Teller, has an arc that's never all that surprising. It was Woodley's Aimee who I couldn't stop watching; I wanted to get to know her better, but the movie wanted to tell me all about Sutter.

 

I wish there were more movies like this one. It's a good movie. But I'm not raving about it. 

 

I am, however, willing to rave about Woodley's performance. I think she's marvelous. 

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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My review:

 

Though well performed, the story doesn't go anywhere unexpected: We know Sutter will face a crisis that forces him to deal with his apathy. But the film's critique of Sutter’s "live in the moment" philosophy—and the unwillingness to reckon with one's past failures that goes hand-in-hand with such a view—is notable in that it may come as a cold splash of water to some of The Spectacular Now's target viewers 

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Eve Tushnet's review.

I don’t know–if what I’ve said so far makes it sound like something you’d like, you should see it. If divorce cliches bother you then there are parts of this movie you will really hate, and IMO the insistence that there’s an “explanation” for Sutter’s problem is also very AfterSchool Special. That said, a good 60% of this movie is fresh and powerful and I loved that part, so I can put up with the rest.

 
After her review of Frances Ha, I expect I will agree with her assessment.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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I was pretty much with this movie until (major spoilers)

 

the accident. From that point on, nothing much made sense to me at all. What? An arm in a sling? Really? That's it? Easiest recovery ever? 

 

Before that, a lot of plot points felt unimaginative, but the leads made up for it. I was happy to follow Shailene Woodley anywhere. Not like a stalker, but like a good uncle..

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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The parts of this movie I like strike me as a really good 80s high school drama.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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Can you be more specific, or at least single out the parts you didn't like? (I'm guessing the drinking stuff?)

 

I watched the film again last week. A second viewing didn't raise my estimation of the film, which I found pretty good but far from great, but neither did it lower it. I was surprised to find that the central female performance, which I earlier thought had dropped out of the film for a long stretch in the back half, wasn't absent too long for any stretch of the film. And my evaluation of Miles grew a bit more sympathetic on second view.

 

All in all, a good film. But I still contend that In a World... is a better film that's more likely to stand the test of time. (Sorry for the non sequitur; had a dispute with Facebook friends about these two films, which were released close together earlier this year.)

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I like the whole dialogue stretch between Sutter and Aimee that

ends with the accident

. The encounter with his father was particularly well done. But I don't think this core of the film is framed very well on either side. The shift in the third act toward Sutter's "no one loves me" shtick seemed awkward. 

 

As a counterexample, one of my favorite elements of Martin Bonner is the consistency of tone throughout, as the film really is just one long conversation that is constantly evolving as the characters get to know each other.

Edited by M. Leary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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The age of actor vs. age of character doesn't usually bother me, but I had trouble getting past Miles Teller in this movie. He looked like the guy who still hangs around high school years after he should've graduated (he was around 25 years old during filming). I felt the same way about Brie Larson, too, possibly because I just watched her play a grown-up role in Short Term 12.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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