Sundance breakout The Spectacular Now might appear to be just another coming-of-age indie on the surface, but this surprisingly unconventional, affecting and authentic portrait of adolescence is in fact the genre’s freshest entry in years. Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber ((500) Days of Summer) and director James Ponsoldt (Smashed) — working from Tim Tharp’s novel — pull off an impressive feat, making something as tired as teen romance feel new again by presenting us with characters we haven’t seen before. Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) — surely a star in the making — stars as high school senior Sutter Keely, a charming life-of-the-party type who lives for “the spectacular now” and masks a certain melancholy with self-deprecating humour and booze. When his longtime girlfriend (Brie Larson) dumps him, Miles goes on a bender and wakes up the next day on the lawn of Aimee Finicky (The Descendants‘ Shailene Woodley), a shy, but not unattractive, bookworm who he had never noticed before. An unexpected friendship slowly and sweetly blossoms into romance, but the script thankfully avoids the usual tropes and veers into some pretty dark territory in the second half as the two are forced to deal with absent fathers and alcoholism. Teller and Woodley’s natural chemistry is palpable, and they were awarded Sundance’s Special Jury Award for good reason; we so desperately want things to work out for these kids that the emotional intensity can be overwhelming at times — so much so that I feared my heart might burst. The supporting cast also do fine work with similarly sympathetic characters, including Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Sutter’s broken family, Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad) as his paternal boss, and Andre Royo (The Wire) as a concerned geometry teacher. Boasting a winning score by Rob Simonsen, and some impeccable indie tracks to boot — Kurt Vile, Ariel Pink, and most impressively, Phosphorescent’s stunning ‘Song For Zula’ over the credits — Ponsoldt’s film is so pitch perfect throughout that my only gripe feels minor: the college application framing device is a clichéd, annoying trope that is beneath this otherwise wonderful and refreshing work.
Watch the trailer for The Spectacular Now below, and find out when the film is next screening here.