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Review: ‘The Spectacular Now’ unimaginative, too real for its own good

For a film that is coming from a director with a habit to portray alcoholism, James Ponsoldt’s latest film, “The Spectacular Now,” which also comes from the same writers of “500 Days of Summer, was surprisingly unexciting.

Wednesday night, the Gateway Theater had an advanced showing of” “The Spectacular Now” is an interesting yet flawed film which may resonate with many college and high school students.

Miles Teller of “Project X” and “21 & Over” plays Sutter, an alcoholic high school screw-up whose obsessive desire to live “in the now” is jeopardizing his upcoming graduation. After his girlfriend dumps him, he befriends Aimee, a shy girl played by Shailene Woodley, better known for her role on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Through his relationship with Aimee, as well as encounters with his mother, sister and estranged father, Sutter must realize he cannot always live in the present and must take accountability for his own future.

Ponsoldt’s directing career has had a definitive theme of exploring alcohol abuse and how it affects relationships in films like “Smashed” and “Off the Black.” “The Spectacular Now” continues with that trend, this time framing the theme of alcohol abuse with a young man’s coming-of-age tale. Alcohol pervades almost every moment of this film as Sutter drinks at work, while driving and at almost every other opportunity.

The unique angle of the movie is the trend of hyperrealism. Almost all aspects of the movie feel like they could be taken out of real life events in a small town. The myriad of characters that Sutter interacts with actually feel like real people living real lives. The dialogue is intentionally awkward and stilted in order to properly mimic real life. In particular, the uncomfortable flirting between Sutter and Aimee is something every high school kid has experienced. The result is a movie that feels like real life events. What it does not result in is an entertaining movie.

Teller and Woodley should be commended for making their characters feel believable — it is just difficult for the audience to work up much emotion toward them. Sutter’s story is one we have all heard – perhaps someone you know has gone through a similar process. However, seeing it portrayed on screen isn’t fascinating. Great stories come from ordinary people being thrust into the extraordinary or from extraordinary people being thrust into the ordinary. There is nothing special about Sutter or his story. It is one that happens a hundred times at high schools in small towns across the country every May. While you might be able to relate to Sutter’s journey and experience catharses from seeing him overcome the challenges in his life, better, more engaging movies have been made on this subject. “The Spectacular Now” is flat and unimaginative, find another film to watch.

Grade: C-

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