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Friday, 23 August 2013 00:00

'The Spectacular Now' defies the now for the future

'The Spectacular Now' defies the now for the future
Written by Martha K. Baker
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The main characters in "The Spectacular Now" say "Cheers!" a lot as they bump bottles, but they are not very cheerful. Sutter Keely is a teenage boy alcoholic, who lives in the now. Aimee is a teenage girl, who has been getting by on hard work, sci fi, and dreams of a college education. 

They meet but not cute: Sutter is passed out on a lawn onto which Aimee is throwing papers on her mother's route. She knows Sutter -- who doesn't know Sutter? -- but he doesn't know her. He has just been dumped by his girlfriend, who's sick of his drinking -- and of the way he pulls her back. Sutter hooks up with Aimee, for any number of reasons, some of which he cannot even fathom. He says he's just giving her "the boyfriend experience." He encourages Aimee to tell her mother that she's going to college, away from home. In turn, Aimee encourages Sutter to demand his father's phone number from his mother, and Aimee even goes with him to visit the man.

Aimee is one of those girls who subsume their dreams to help others realize theirs. She is smart but not smart enough not to take that drink offered by her first boyfriend. She has no stories about herself.

Sutter is one of those kids -- often boys -- who get by on charm, who know all the things to say, and most of those things are about them, the jerks. They are, as Sutter crows, serious about not being serious. His boss wants to "yank him out of neutral," but he insists he's in "overdrive."

Scott Neustadt and Michael H. Weber, who wrote the screenplay for "(500) Days of Summer," wrote "The Spectacular Now," based on the novel by Tim Tharp, but a similar novel about kids and booze is Garret Keizer's God of Beer. They give the teenagers and the parents the right, believable words to say. James Ponsoldt directed "The Spectacular Now" with sensitivity and a good understanding of how to build a story.

He had good actors to work with. Shailene Woodley, so impressive in "The Descendants," works Aimee like a pro, her serious words as good as her silences and stutters. Miles Teller, who was in "The Rabbit Hole," is excellent as Sutter, struggling against knowing himself and pouring whiskey from his flask into his ThirstMaster cup like a pro. Kyle Chandler is so credible as Sutter's father, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the mother. Brie Larson plays Sutter's ex-girlfriend with complexity.

"The Spectacular Now" joins three other good movies this summer that champion males: "Mud," "Kings of Summer" and "The Way, Way Back." "The Spectacular Now" is the one about the kid who lives in the now but not in the know, and it, like the others, is a good character study. 

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