Is ‘The Spectacular Now’ Really This Generation’s ‘Say Anything?’

the-spectacular-now-(2013)-large-coverSo I’ve been a little absent recently, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching movies and TV shows – mainly popping in an indie flick every so often. You’re probably sitting there groaning at the fact that I’ve decided to write a post about yet another indie coming-of-ager.  I think I’ve just decided that should be my niche.  Anyway, the older people reading might be shocked to hear that I haven’t until very recently watched the 1989 classic teen movie Say Anything.  Some of you might not be that surprised.  I watched it with my girlfriend in November.  She liked it off the bat, but I had trouble deciding what to think of it after the credits started rolling.  Like other films, it wasn’t necessarily frustrating in the fact that pretty much nothing happened, but nor was it oozing with teen romance goodness (excuse my vocabulary).  To me, how could a movie like that be truly iconic?  It just seemed simply subpar.

I suppose it took me a little while to let it sink in.  There’s a certain beauty about simplicity if done right.  Critics often applaud writers, directors, and actors for avoiding cliches when it comes to movies in general, but especially when it’s in the teen genre, as those types of movies tend to alienate people.  I will say that sometimes cliches are necessary.  Just because it’s been done before does not make it a bad movie.  But I can definitely see how John Hughes movies of the early to mid-eighties (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) could overshadow and sometimes make it hard to appreciate something like Say Anything.  In my opinion, it’s not looked back on fondly nearly as much as the former.  While not as popular, it still sustains a certain level of popularity though.

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 There’s nothing wrong with Hughes films.  Critics might be quick to argue that as they like to do, but the Hughes films are iconic for a reason.  Just like Say Anything is iconic for a reason – but perhaps a different reason.  Teens of today might be interested in Easy A or even the emotionally stuffed The Perks of Being a Wallflowerwhich are both pretty good films and deserve good followings, but movies like The Spectacular Now are also equally as deserving, if not more, of being seen as an iconic teen film.

The 2013 independent film was released in August of last year.  It didn’t catch my attention until perhaps December or January when I saw it available on iTunes.  The thought of watching another lame movie about a boy and a girl from totally different worlds falling in love with each other turned me off a bit.  But the rave reviews and synopsis kept me somewhat attached.

The movie follows Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), an 18-year-old fast approaching high school graduation.  Sutter immediately comes off as a laid-back kid who doesn’t have a lot of worries.  With a drink in his hand, Sutter believes he can pretty much take on anything.  The only problem is he doesn’t want to put a lot of thought into his future and where his life is headed after high school.  Despite pestering from his mom, his older sister, and his girlfriend, Sutter lives his life by one simple rule: Live in the now.

That one simple rule doesn’t prove to be enough for Sutter’s girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), as she breaks up with him several months prior to graduation.  After finding her in the arms of star athlete and all around good guy Marcus West, Sutter decides to drink his sorrows away.  The next day he wakes up in a random front yard with little recollection of the previous night’s events and no idea where his car is.

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Sutter’s classmate, the shy and timid Aimee Finnicky (Shailene Woodley) is the one to find Sutter passed out on the lawn during her morning paper route.  The two form a small bond as Aimee drives Sutter around to look for his car in exchange for him helping her with her morning paper route.  As typical teen movie formula would have it, the two start spending more time together.  They meet up for lunch at school the next week and Aimee even agrees to tutor Sutter in Geometry – a subject he’s failing pretty badly.

Rather than portraying Aimee as a snobby, uptight know-it-all (something these kinds of movies often do), she’s portrayed as a shy, unsure, and easily influenced girl who’s desperate for someone to take some sort of interest in her.  Believe it or not, that’s one of the many things The Spectacular Now is able to do right.

Sutter attempts to convince Cassidy, his friends, and even himself that he isn’t actually interested in Aimee.  Even after the two go to prom together and delve deeper into a relationship, he still tries to convince himself of this – that he’s just trying to make Aimee feel better about herself and give her the confidence she needs to live her life right.  That she’ll soon grow tired of him after the first month or so of honeymoon bliss, just like all his other girlfriends had.  The thing is, though, Aimee is unlike any of Sutter’s other girlfriends.

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She doesn’t have as much straightforward outward beauty as Cassidy, nor do the two seem to connect over having a good time like Sutter and Cassidy had.  But it becomes clear to Sutter that something about Aimee’s needing him, her total dorkiness, her love for sci-fi novels, her inability to stand up to her mother, and her secludedness from Sutter’s familiar world brings something up in him.

The film verges on leading you to believe that these two belong together, but never quite crosses over that threshold, which is probably the best part about The Spectacular Now.  

Sutter’s alcoholism should be apparent to the audience right from the get-go, as he always has a drink in his hand.  He’s presumed to be at least buzzed at almost all times, but his problem is never treated as an addiction.  You never really feel sorry for him because of it, let alone grow angry with him because of it.  It’s incredibly subtle.  But towards the end of the movie, you start to realize what a big problem he has.  Just like Sutter, the audience is led to believe that he’s fine for the most part, but his and Aimee’s problems really start to seep through towards the end.

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For instance, there’s Sutter’s lingering feelings for Cassidy.  While it appears that he’s pretty much over her when he jumps into things with Aimee, there’s, again, subtle hints that he might still be interested in her when they exchange goodbyes at graduation.  During this time, we also see Aimee offering Sutter some alcohol after the ceremony from a flask he gave her at prom.  Sure, the audience is also led to believe she might have developed a small alcohol problem as well after being introduced to it by Sutter, but it doesn’t become entirely evident how bad his influence is on her until this scene.  The once timid, innocent Aimee may have developed a drinking problem as well.

After finding out about his father’s own problems, Sutter seems to finally accept the fact that he has a lousy dad and the two have a lot in common.  Realizing how badly things ended for his parents on account of his father, he comes to understand why all his past girlfriends, especially Cassidy, left him.  He also understands how badly he’s affecting Aimee.

The book of the same name that the movie is based on, ends on a very uncertain and somewhat bitter note.  I appreciate the originality, but I suppose for so much buildup I wasn’t a fan.  Because despite my likeness for grounded, realistic situations, I still hope for at least somewhat of a resolution.  And the film is able to at least give me that.  I get to see Sutter break down and realize what he’s doing wrong with his life.  Whether he decides to make necessary changes to continue a life with Aimee or make something of himself is uncertain.  I do know that the monologue at the end and the final scene of the film is enough to make me think hard about my own life.

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are stellar at the forefront here.  Teller is quickly making his way up to the top, and the guy deserves it.  I put him on my radar after seeing him in the not-so-stellar 21 and Over.  Not only can the guy act, but he doesn’t have the face of a model, which is something that made me incredibly happy.  It’s also something that might have helped The Spectacular Now win me over.  The actors portraying teens are allowed to have physical flaws – blemishes and scars.  I know Woodley form her ABC Family drama, something that initially turned me off to her and her axed Spider-Man scenes, but after seeing her here, it becomes clear that she’s a pretty astounding actress.  As for Brie Larson?  She definitely deserves more credit and more screen time in larger roles.

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Say Anything is comparable to the film as it’s never exactly clear cut about things.  Even as the film ends with the protagonists getting ready for a new life together, there’s still at least a small amount of uncertainty.  There’s still lingering thoughts and doubts in the end.  By time The Spectacular Now starts coming to a close, there are definitely doubts placed there as well.  Do Aimee and Sutter really belong together?  Is he a bad influence on her?  Does he still love Cassidy?

They’re doubts we encounter all the time in our everyday lives.  Despite several customers’ reviews of the “depressing nature” of the film on Amazon, you should appreciate it for being able to ground itself, but also tell a compelling and interesting story.  It might not end on the overly happy, sappy note you’re used to seeing in mainstream cinema.  Some people hate that.  If you really absolutely cannot stand that, then don’t even bother with this movie.  But if you can appreciate a good film that can truly make you feel for its main characters, tell a realistic story, not alienate you with an overly high school nature, draw comparisons to a beloved 1989 classic, and give you enough credit to enjoy a well-crafted piece that not only rings true to real life, but makes you take a hard look at your own life, then by all means give The Spectacular Now a chance.

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