Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson and Kyle Chandler
Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes
Release Date: September 13, 2013
Each year out of the Sundance Film Festival there are a number of films that steal the spotlight and go on to become what has become known as a "Critical Darling". That is to say the film in question garnered favorable reviews from top critics everywhere and won a number of independent film awards such as the Jury Prize and any number of other superfluous awards, but failed to make a dent in the box office when it was released. Of course you have to take into account the fact that many films coming out of Sundance only ever see a limited theatrical release, but there is still a threshold for how the film should perform even in a limited number of venues.
The film in question, The Spectacular Now, and the focal point of this review did end up turning a profit from its theatrical release, but failed to make any sort of an impact despite its massive amount of critical acclaim. So, it was with some mixed expectations that this reviewer sought out the film to see for himself what exactly all the lavish praise was about. The Spectacular Now, based off a novel of the same name, wants so hard to be that coming of age film that represents a generation of kids who can identify with the trials and tribulations its main character goes through, that it has the unfortunate side effect of trying so hard that it goes off the rails in spectacular fashion.
The performances aren't necessarily the problem as Miles Teller who plays this sort of stereotypical teenage boy who happens to drink alcohol like it is water and the girl he meets played by the soon-to-be new "it" girl Shailene Woodley are both really sincere in their performances. Teller in particular pulls a rabbit out of his hat and turns in a very touching performance, something that wasn't expected by the guy who played in such classics as the Footloose remake and the dreadful teen comedy 21 & Over. Woodley likewise gives a very understated and very natural performance as this sort of naive teenage girl who gets in over her head with Teller as her drunken boyfriend.
The problems arise with the heavy handed nature of the material makes itself apparent and how we are lured into this overly melodramatic narrative that despite starting out sincere enough, makes a swerve near the middle of the film that lands it squarely into one of those After School Specials where it is hammered home through a series of unfortunate and unlikely scenarios that make each character reflect on their life and eventually make a change for the better. It's not that the characters are particularly at fault here, but the material that they are working with just doesn't feel genuine which makes the film feel more like a cautionary tale of young teens who like to drink than the timeless love story it so desperately wants to be.
If you are looking for the defining teen romance film of the current generation, keep looking. The Spectacular Now wants to follow in the footsteps of such classics as Pretty In Pink, Say Anything, Juno and The Notebook, but fails to make its central romance its main focus and instead puts its focus squarely on the troubled life of a teenage boy who is fighting the demons that plague his not-so spectacular life. If you want to see two actors just before they hit the big time, the film has some merits in that respect, other than that though there is little reason to check out this failed coming of age film.