Hazel and Gus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous given that Hazel's other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they met and fell in love at a cancer support group.
George, a lonely and fatalistic teen who has made it all the way to his senior year without ever having done a real day of work, is befriended by Sally, a popular but complicated girl who recognizes in him a kindred spirit.
Beca, a freshman at Barden University, is cajoled into joining The Bellas, her school's all-girls singing group. Injecting some much needed energy into their repertoire, The Bellas take on their male rivals in a campus competition.
Sutter Keely lives in the now. It's a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he's the life of the party, loves his job at a men's clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he's never far from his supersized, whiskey-fortified thirst-master cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finecky hovering over him. She's different: the "nice girl" who reads science fiction and doesn't have a boyfriend. While Aimee has dreams of a future, Sutter lives in the impressive delusion of a spectacular now, yet somehow, they're drawn together. Written by
Sundance-darling "The Spectacular Now" is a curious one. With a script by the guys who wrote "500 Days of Summer", the movie is about as slice- of-life as they come, and it is interesting and well-acted.
As the film unspools, it may subconsciously remind viewers of the imperfect messiness of Cameron Crowe's teen ode "Say Anything" - complete with a Cusack-like performance by Miles Teller.
Teller's Sutter character is smooth, confident, charming, occasionally- unlikable and flawed. It's an accomplished balancing act.
The centerpiece performance is really Shailene Woodley, as Sutter's new girlfriend Aimee. She gives the most natural performance of a teenager on screen in ages. Her unaffected, open assignment elevates every scene she's in.
Both performances are in service of a film that drifts through the senior high students' last weeks before the end of high school, and takes a mutedly-pessimistic approach of the future before our two leads. These two kids are invisibly shackled to their town, in their home life, their pasts. Echoing the crux at the centre of 1989's "Say Anything", Aimee figures an escape plan; Sutter seems to be blindly comfortable in his 'spectacular' now.
Pulling "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" alum Jennifer Jason-Leigh into the film as Sutter's world-worn mother was a nice touch. Her vacant-eyed mother is in keeping with the film's less-glamorous take.
The picture labours a bit too much in over-emphasizing Sutter's crutch, and the mid-film scenes visiting Sutter's estranged father had trouble finding the right tone between character and caricature. The movie doesn't feel any urgency to build to a conclusion, but when it does, it is understated, uneventful - kind of like our two characters, and sort of like real-life, too.
Life is messy, as is "The Spectacular Now". It eschews the studio slickness and over-plotted determination of more polished teenage products. Despite two grounded, award-worthy lead performances, this film seemed a touch sketched and ever-so-slightly inert.
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