Movies: "The Spectacular Now" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "The Spectacular Now"
Movies: "The Spectacular Now"


It’s back to school time, and just to remind us older folks what that was like, there have been a spate of recent, serious movies about high school age kids.  You know, first loves, sex, real or imagined, partying and -- occasionally -- studying for class.


So far, this is the best of the lot.


Meet Sutter (Miles Teller), sort of a high school version of the Jon Favreau character in “Swingers.”  He’s your basic good-time Charlie, smart but lazy and a hit with the girls, particularly his steady, Cassidy (24-year old Brie Larson, Katy in “The United States of Tara” on TV).  His divorced mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh, great in this smallish role) is a hard-working hospital nurse who is rarely home.


Sutter’s also a drunk, constantly pouring booze from a hip flask into his soft drink cups and sipping the mix through a straw.


One morning finds him passed out on a suburban lawn just as Aimee (Shaileen Woodley of “The Descendants”) stops by on her paper route.  Since Cassidy has broken up with him, Sutter befriends Aimee, a high school nobody, and before long, their relationship deepens, much to the surprise of both their friends.  Only Cassidy seems aware of Sutter’s drinking problem.  “Have you turned her into a lush yet?” she asks him about his new relationship.


Unlike so many other films set in high school, we are spared the usual cliches about jocks, nerds and hard partying.  Unlike so many other teen movies, all the adults here are pretty decent, including Sutter’s kindly math teacher (Andre Royo, Bubbles in “The Wire”) and the boss of the men’s clothing store where Sutter works (comedy writer Bob Odenkirk).   He's the only adult who is truly on to Sutter.


Sutter’s mom has never explained why his father left, nor has she allowed him to track down his dad.  When he finally does, the revelation leaves him shattered and leads to some surprising developments in his new life with Aimee.   


But even with those surprises, this movie remains low-key and restrained, which is a large part of its appeal.  So is the acting:  Teller is no Romeo, but he conveys the easy charm of a young swinger.  Leigh is terrific as his stressed-out mother.  Kyle Chandler (“Zero Dark Thirty”) is convincing as Sutter’s wayward father.  And Shailene Woodley absolutely shines as the young girl who is awakened to love.  She’s the best thing about this movie.


“The Spectacular Now” is rated R for its adult themes, teenage drinking and a touchingly realistic sex scene.  I give it a B-Plus.

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