With a plot that should sound familiar to all of us who have seen our fair share of teen romances blossom – and sometimes wither – on the big screen (a popular kid in school falls in love with a sweet geeky girl) it is difficult to believe that The Spectacular Now could be a film worth seeing, let alone be a spectacular cinematic experience. What a nice surprise it is then to find that James Ponsoldt’s latest directorial effort is a total joy of a film.
The film’s major strength is the realism with which it depicts those turbulent teenage years. The screenwriting duo of Scott Neustadter and Michael H Webber ( 500 Days of Summer) has written a script that opts for sincerity rather than quirkiness and easy laughs, giving us characters that talk refreshingly like normal teenagers. The two young actors are both excellent in the roles, deservingly receiving a Special Jury Prize for acting at Sundance. This should be the breakthrough role for Miles Teller who makes us care about an immature hard-partying high-school senior who seems to have no plans for his future and earns our wholehearted sympathy when he finds out the difficult way that he cannot always live for the moment. As for Shailene Woodley, who first caught our eyes as the rebellious daughter of George Clooney in The Descendants, she excels in a very different role, oozing sweetness and vulnerability.
In fact Woodley is so good that you wish that the film could spend a little more time with her character’s journey towards self-confidence instead of focusing primarily on the male character’s hopes and fears (500 Days of Summer can also be criticised for paying more attention to the male than the female character). This is however a minor quibble for a film that reminds us that despite what hollow stylistic exercises like Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring shout about, teenagers are complicated people who are starting to realise how messy life can be and try their best to cope with it. (Words: Apostolos Kostoulas)
The Spectacular Now will have its UK premiere at the 57th BFI London Film Festival tonight. It shows at selected UK cinemas later this month.