To Live and Write in LA

LA Film Fest: ‘The Spectacular Now’

(First published on blogcritics.org)

posterAs this film got underway, I found myself thinking, “I’m not going to enjoy this. Well, that scene was pretty good, but I’m going to write a bad review.”  The protagonist was a jerk. OK, he was a charming jerk, as many of them are. He also reminded me of a guy in high school who stole my girlfriend.  I really didn’t want to like The Spectacular Now, but, I did.

The Spectacular Now, directed by James Ponsoldt, showed to a packed house at the LA Film Fest on June 21, but it almost didn’t make it. The film was shot in 25 days, but the script, adapted from the novel by Tim Tharp, was written five years ago.

According to screenwriter Scott Neustadter (500 Days of Summer), this story was one of those scripts that people all over Hollywood wanted to make, but nobody could line the talent up for it. It was stuck in “development hell.”

The story involves high school senior Sutter Keely, played by Miles Teller (Project XFootloose (2011)) who lives in “the now.” Living in the now leads to being dumped by his girlfriend and, after a typically drunk night, waking up on the lawn of  boyfriendless, sci-fi  reading “nice girl” Aimee Finicky, played by Shailene Woodley (The DescendantsThe Secret Life of the American Teenager).  From that moment both of their lives change,

Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley

Woodley and Teller work well together and are convincing as the opposites-attract couple. They are backed up by a strong cast, including Brie Larson (The United States of Tara) as the girl who dumps Sutter, Jennifer Jason Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont HighThe MachinistSingle White Female) as Sutter’s mom, and Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights,,Zero Dark ThirtyArgo) as his dad.

Chandler’s performance is particularly memorable. Chandler takes a chance and plays a character against type (although, sometimes Hollywood likes this as evidenced by John Wayne’s only Oscar for True Grit). Normally he plays the responsible, reliable, squeaky clean guy. Not so much, this time. When Sutter meets his long estranged dad, it, almost, shocks him into sobriety.

Neustadter explained that it was Woodley’s passion for the plot that really got things going. She wanted to do something special to follow up on the success of The Descendants.  As for Teller, he was rejected for the role of Sutter once, but came back to give it a second try. Neustadter, Teller and Woodley make this film a passion project to the third power. The dedication shows.

What makes this story so special? Neustadter explained: “Well, it’s a story about teenagers and none of them are vampires or werewolves.”

It’s a story about real teenagers, with real problems, like parents, and drinking too much. Neustadter said he was inspired by the work of John Hughes (Pretty in PinkSixteen Candles) and Cameron Crow (Fast Times at Ridgemont HighSay Anything…). “No one has been writing stories that take teenagers seriously,” he said. They, or at least Neustadter and writing partner Michael H. Weber, are now.

The Spectacular Now, rated “R”, is a good film, with an ending somewhat reminiscent of The Graduate, a film Neustadter admitted to liking. It will open in theaters on August 2.

Personally, I’m still mad at that guy from high school.

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