At the end of The Spectacular Now, Character A encounters Character B at Location X. The two make eye contact and the film cuts to the closing credits. This prompted someone in the audience at the Landmark Keystone Art Cinema to scream "Noooo!" I was mildly surprised by the reaction. While the wrap-up was abrupt, the filmmakers had painted an insightful enough portrait of the characters that it was not difficult to imagine what would happen next.
Still, I felt bad for the frustrated viewer. A couple of minutes later, however, a friend of mine walked up and said, "How about that screamer? You know, I saw her texting several times during the movie." My sympathy went away as I realized that she probably missed the character development because she was busy arranging to meet her daughter-in-law for a late lunch or something equally important. I thought I had heard a burst of impassioned outrage from a cinema buff, but it just turned out to be movie karma.
It's a shame she didn't focus her full attention on the movie. The Spectacular Now, directed by James Ponsoldt (Smashed) from a screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer) based on Tim Tharp's novel, is a marvelously acted coming-of-age flick with interesting, nuanced characters that feel genuine.
This summer's charming The Way, Way Back showed the painful process of growing up by following a miserable kid on a seaside vacation as he dodges his relatives and finds his place in a "family" of colorful locals. The Spectacular Now has less plot and more close-ups (many of them unearned, but the offense is minor) as it uses its canvas as a character study. It's very good.
Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a popular high school senior with smart eyes, a winning demeanor and boundless enthusiasm as he struggles to live in the moment. The downside of living in the moment, alas, is that it leaves little time to plan for the future or reflect on the past. Sutter doesn't address that stumbling block. Instead he plows ahead, stumbling and bolstering his enjoyment of the moment with swigs from his pocket flask. Teller is outstanding in the role. I can't stress enough what a fine job he does.
After screwing up his relationship with Cassidy (Brie Larson), a bright cheerleader, and partying the night away, Sutter wakes up on the front yard of Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley from The Descendants), a mild, withdrawn classmate. A relationship begins, with Sutter living in the moment with Aimee and a smitten Aimee eager to start a life of romance and adventure.
Sutter's relationship with his mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is strained and he eventually sets out on a road trip with Aimee to connect with his long-absent father (an excellent Kyle Chandler). That's about all the plot there is. Again, the film is about characters and performances more than story.
I wish Aimee had been given more of a life. Sure, her relationship with Sutter is her first and a degree of restraint is required, there are moments when, despite Woodley's fine performance, Aimee seems more like a supporting player in Sutter's story than a person unto herself.
That said, the movie still works and Aimee eventually emerges as more than a story device. The Spectacular Now stumbles at points, but is one of the most entertaining and satisfying offerings of the summer. And the ending is just fine.