For as glamorized as youth can be, many films fail to acknowledge the often painstaking process of realizing who you are and what you want to become. For Sutter Keely (Miles Teller, who has come up in the world after Project X and 21 & Over), taking life seriously has never been part of his plan. His entire motto is living for, you guessed it, the now. His chief interest is his girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), who also enjoys getting drunk and aimless wandering. Therefore, the film opens with him writing a personal statement to a college explaining that his most recent hardship was being dumped by her.
After trying to help his best friend, Ricky (Masam Holden), attract the interest of the opposite sex, Sutter’s plan backfires when Cassidy catches him innocently sitting in the car with another girl who is friends with the person Ricky’s on a canoe with (it’s all very picturesque). It later becomes evident that Cassidy was looking for a final reason to break up with him all along as she had the class president/quarterback of the football team, Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi), waiting in the wings. Her motives for chucking Sutter consist mainly of the fact that he is unable to think about the future/his alcoholic tendencies. This seems to confirm all his beliefs about being worthless and largely non-functional, inciting him to get drunk, confront Cassidy at a party and then drive home. He awakens around 6am to find himself lying in the front yard of Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley, who gained attention for her role in The Descendants).
Her aura of self-effacement and selflessness immediately draws Sutter in, prompting him ask her if she wants to have lunch (a.k.a. hang out in the cafeteria). Aimee’s friend, Krystal (Kaitlyn Dever), is automatically wary of Sutter when he shows up late to meet her for lunch. Ricky also seems concerned for Aimee’s emotional well-being, convinced that Sutter is using her as a rebound for Cassidy. And, in fact, this is largely true in the beginning as Sutter continues to pursue Cassidy whenever he can, returning to Aimee only when Cassidy grows bored of flirting with him.
Aimee, on the other hand, finds herself instantly attached to Sutter. Seeing him only for his good side, nothing about his questionable habits can sway her devotion. Ultimately, Sutter becomes just as enamored of Aimee as she is of him, though in the back of his mind, he always feels somehow inadequate. Their closeness reaches its zenith when Sutter takes her to meet his dad, whom he hasn’t seen in years and only tracks down after begging his sister for some sort of information about him (his mother always refuses). When Sutter discovers that his father is a drunk whose only philosophy is living for the moment, he is horrified. Certain that he’s a carbon copy of this man, Sutter pushes Aimee away when she tells him she loves him. Her proclamation sends Sutter into a fury as he forces Aimee to get out of his car in an abrupt course of events that leads her to get run over.
But don’t worry, it’s not like she dies or anything (kind of like no one in Mean Girls ever died after getting run over, imagined or otherwise). She isn’t even upset with Sutter afterward, confirming her plans that she still wants to go to college in Philadelphia and that she wants him to go with her. Simultaneously awed and vexed by her constancy, Sutter ends up ditching her at the bus station. And it is at this point that the entire theme of The Spectacular Now is driven home–that it’s never too late to remedy your actions or amend a choice, not if you don’t let yourself stand in the way.
Directed by James Ponsoldt (best know for TV series Smash) and written by Mark H. Weber and Scott Neustadter (known chiefly for their previous collaboration on 500 Days of Summer), there is an undeniable authenticity to the coming of age motif of the film. Even the incredibly awkward and uncomfortable scene in which Sutter takes Aimee’s virginity feels cringingly real. Sutter and Aimee’s frequently clumsy exchanges seem so genuine and artless, you can’t help but be endeared by their sincerity, even if you don’t totally relate to it. Plus, Bob Odenkirk (a.k.a. Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad) is in it, so how can you go wrong?