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The Spectacular Now - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published December 3rd 2013
The agony and ecstasy of teenage love
Director: James Ponsoldt (Smashed, Off the Black)
Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larson, Bob Odenkirk

All the intensity of a first love is achingly rendered on screen in The Spectacular Now, an emotionally bruising story of a cocky class-clown and his odd-couple relationship with a studious and shy girl.

spectacular now
Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller play highschool sweethearts Sutter and Aimee

What starts as a friendship instigated by the high profile Sutter (Miles Teller), whose motivation is apparently to give a helping hand to the socially withdrawn Aimee (Shailene Woodley), soon turns into a tentative romance. But of course, the road to true love does not run smoothly, especially when you're a teen full of inhibitions, self-doubt and a lack of problem solving skills.

In the early scenes Sutter comes across as such an unlikeable little sod that you think you're going to struggle to maintain a rooting interest in him, but we soon learn that his swagger is a front for his low self-esteem and in fact his feelings of unworthiness, more so than that of his quieter love interest, are the real hurdle towards harmony and happiness.

The film excels thanks to the authenticity of the characters and the world they live in. The performances too are sensational, from the two leads Teller and Woodley (who was so good in The Descendants) to Jennifer Jason Leigh and Elizabeth Winstead as Sutter's mother and sister respectively. The latter also starred in the director's previous film, Smashed, which like The Spectacular Now deals with alcohol abuse. There's also a Breaking Bad thread to Ponsoldt's films. Smashed was a starring vehicle for Aaron Paul, and his Breaking Bad co-star Bob Odenkirk features here.

Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, who together wrote the equally excellent 500 Days of Summer, have etched a beautiful story of young lives fumbling for self-acceptance. Carefully structured, the screenplay is brimming with humour and quietly affecting moments that steadily culminate with a scene of rare emotional power. It's a stunning climax to one of the year's best films.

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Why? One of the year's best films
Where: At selected cinemas
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