Sean K. Cureton

Quiet Humanity and Private Intimacy in Contemporary Romantic Drama

In Movie Reviews: 2013 on September 6, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Theatrical Poster

The Spectacular Now
Directed by James Ponsoldt
3 ½ out of 4 stars

The Spectacular Now is the new feature film from (500) Days of Summer screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, and directed by James Ponsoldt. Based on the YA novel by Tim Tharp, Ponsoldt’s film is a tour de force drama about young love, won and lost, and the dysfunctional individuals who fall in love with one another. Rather than verging into the realm of witless adolescent rebellion, or the superficiality and shallowness of young lust, Ponsoldt’s young lovers are fantastically realized miniatures of all of the pain and heartbreak of love as it appears in its most romanticized form. After honing their talents with the now classic indie-drama (500) Days of Summer, screenwriters Neustadter and Weber have now proven themselves to be a creative force to be reckoned with this new film about the fragility of intimate, human relationships. What’s more, Ponsoldt was another perfect match for filming a Neustadter and Weber script, offering up a film that is supremely brilliant, matching the subtlety of the script with carefully filmed shots of understated humanity and appropriately dramatic tableaux.

Set around the relationship of and between life-of-the-party Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) and honors student Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), Ponsoldt’s film goes about discovering its two lovers through quiet observation, rather than intrusive ogling or the use of a deus ex machina. As Sutter and Aimee reveal things about themselves to one another, the audience is also allowed access into the characters’ interior lives, becoming more involved with the film’s characters at the same pace that Sutter and Aimee begin to fall in love with each other more deeply. Where many films about the same subject would take a more direct approach at depicting young love as it starts to blossom, Ponsoldt holds back, allowing a sort of sanctity and privacy to Sutter and Aimee’s relationship, without outright abandoning his position as a cinematic voyeur. It’s hard to film a sex scene that doesn’t feel exploitative or pornographic, and yet the sex in The Sectacular Now doesn’t feel like either, retaining a kind of grace awarded to the privacy of a more natural physical intimacy. Ponsoldt’s young lovers appear to be actually in love, which is something of a rarity in contemporary films about such a subject, where explicitness is preferred over a more human somberness and conservative behavior.

Beyond the finely crafted script and thoughtful direction, The Spectacular Now is also bolstered by two of the best performances from two actors under the age of 30. Miles Teller is in top form as Sutter, balancing the act of being the class clown who deep down simply wants to love and be loved, in a performance that is reminiscent of a young Vince Vaughn in Swingers. Likewise, Shaileen Woodley, fresh off her successful turn as George Clooney’s daughter in The Descendants, plays the girl next door better than anyone, exuding kindness, honesty, and prettiness, all without the help of makeup or a ravishing wardrobe. Instead of coming off as well to do Hollywood stars pretending to be your average, troubled teenager, Teller and Woodley ooze a sincerity which is quiet simply too real to be an entirely fictive pretention. Teller and Woodley are stunning, and the film is exponentially aided by their inspired performances.

The Spectacular Now is one of the most accurate cinematic portrayals of young love, being neither too romanticized nor an outright dismissal of young love as a notion founded on lust rather than a mutual intimacy and human understanding. Neustadter and Weber have written yet another fantastic screenplay together, which has been made into another excellent film by the more than capable director James Ponsoldt. Instead of offering up another cookie-cutter, John Hughes-esque copy of the young adult film, Ponsoldt has gone against the mold, challenging his audience with a portrayal of teenagers which is just as fraught with jealousy and misunderstanding as any portrayal of two adults would be. The Spectacular Now is an expertly directed drama, filled with emotional vibrancy and a thrilling amount of dramatic tension, building up to some truly inspired cinematic moments. Romantic drama and comedy is a hard film genre to get quiet right, but screenwriters Neustadter and Weber have got the formula down pat, and their new film is further proof of that fact.

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