Release: Friday, August 2, 2013 (limited)
Miles Teller had but one chance left to impress before I completely wrote him off as an actor who may have talent, but is perpetually doomed to recycling poor role choices. Even though his resumé may be limited, there’s enough to notice the pattern of him being typecast as the boisterous, most extroverted alpha male in the room. Never one to take anything seriously, the 26-year-old Teller in drunken fiascos like 21 & Over and Project X has been highly unlikable and the movies themselves never led me to believe the kid could really act. Fortunately, that opinion needs to be amended, now that I’ve seen his work in The Spectacular Now, an unusually refined story that shows a young couple falling in love and dealing with the complicated realities of being on the cusp of adulthood. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age story, but not one you’ve seen before.
Teller takes on a more civilized version of his once-and-future frat boy persona. Where he was once trying much too hard to channel his inner John Belushi circa Animal House with his high-spirited debauchery and general disregard for anyone around him (including his friends), his Sutter Keely is dressed in a decorum which really goes the extra mile in this new film from James Ponsoldt. While he’s still not my favorite element to the film (that recognition goes to Shailene Woodley’s stellar performance) this guy is a much more likable person and is one that is easy to get behind and root for. Finally.
Sutter’s that kid who refuses to think about the future. He lives very much in the moment, which is typically a healthy practice, but for him it’s become a mindset that has eroded more of his potential than fulfilled it since he seems content to just drift by in school, at his job and even in his relationships, all while embracing being king of high school — even if that is a clock that is set to expire pretty soon. Of course, he knows that, so isn’t that even more reason to remain in the here-and-now?
After a fall-out with his ex, Sutter goes on an inexplicable drinking spree (how does anyone get away with serving this kid when they know he’s underage?), gets tanked and drives home, which results in him laying in someone’s front yard, and being discovered by a concerned passer-by early the next morning. Thanks to his reputation, the girl immediately recognizes him, but he can’t quite put a name to this pretty face. She introduces herself as Aimee Finecky (Woodley). Call the rest history.
The film tumbles into a fierce love story between the two young stars that is intensely captivating. At a certain point, the performances and direction work so seamlessly that the script seems to be relegated to more of a guideline-type role and the real human element, the gut instinct, takes over. Being a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, facing real-world problems suddenly with secrets being revealed about one another’s own families and their histories, there’s no doubt that in particular Sutter and Aimee’s transitional year from high school to. . . . . whatever comes next. . . is particularly turbulent. Well, more like explosive, and Ponsoldt was adept in capturing as many sparks as he could. The fact remains that while teenagers do “have it made” more or less, there’s a lot to figure out about one’s self this early on. This film utilizes that time period to explore some deeply personal and complex emotions and head spaces.
In the end, it’s the details that really arrest. From discovering certain underlying reasons as to why Sutter drinks just so damn much; to him convincing Aimee that she needs to quit doing the paper route for her mom (“Mom, get off my motherf**king back!” being one of the movie’s more memorable lines); to what happens on the side of a road one fateful night. The film is a complete tour-de-force as far as the emotional spectrum is concerned. It’s almost a little bi-polar — but that term doesn’t sound good, so we’ll just go with extremely moody. At the same time, it’s a complete package. The ups are terrific and moving, while the low points almost break you to pieces. The last thing I thought I would be doing would be nearly coming to tears concerning Teller’s character at one point.
At the end of the day, with me being completely nonplussed by Teller’s previous output and then being blown away by his performance here — that’s saying something. However, it should also be mentioned that he’s got plenty of great material surrounding him, but it’s obvious he has stepped up his game for this role. He’s really quite likable and to me that was one of the largest payoffs. With that said, the rest of the cast is simply wonderful as well and the movie benefits tremendously from top-notch work turned in by all.
Recommendation: This is an emotional rollercoaster and if this had a massively long queue lined up for it, it’s surely worth that wait. The cast bring career-defining performances (although for Woodley, she started off on an equally impressive foot with her work in The Descendants) and the events that go down here are all but guaranteed to affect everyone in attendance substantially. If not, then those are some pretty cold-hearted moviegoers. And I pity the fool(s).
Running Time: 95 mins.
Quoted: “What do you mean? Everybody’s got a story.”
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