Sundance Journal: ‘The Spectacular Now’

The movie I had been most excited to see at Sundance this year turns out to be one of the best films that the festival has to offer.

After this year’s titles were announced for Sundance, I made it a point to seek out Tim Tharp’s book “The Spectacular Now.” I read it a few months ago and was interested to see how it would get adapted into a movie. While I liked the characters and the arcs they went through, I couldn’t get past the fact that Tharp’s dialogue sounded like an old guy writing for teenagers.

Bringing in the screenwriters from ‘(500) Days of Summer’, Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, was a great idea. They took Tharp’s original story, threw out the stilted dialogue, and created a much more genuine sounding teen-speak.

For those of you who haven’t read the novel, its story is about a young drunkard named Sutter Keely (Miles Teller). Sutter is usually the life of the party. He doesn’t quite fit into a clique. He’s the kind of kid that people want to be around. He has an infectious thirst for life (and alcohol).

Sutter lives in the now. He isn’t worried about the future. The moment is all that matters. Then he gets dumped by his girlfriend (Brie Larson). He’s still a happy-go-lucky guy, but he needs a girl in his life. After a particularly hellish alcohol-fueled night, Sutter finds himself lying on a lawn not knowing how he got there. He meets Amiee (Shailene Woodley).

Amiee’s a goofy sort of girl. She doesn’t wear makeup, she’s not popular, and she loves reading anime graphic novels. Aimee’s not the type of girl that Sutter would typically go after, but he feels like he can help her. What follows is a sweet, often touching coming-of-age story that feels heartfelt and natural.

Director James Pondsolt (‘Smashed’) pulls some great performances out of his leads. Woodley and Teller have intimate chemistry. The subtle way in which the movie approaches Sutter’s alcoholism and how it affects him is admirable.

Tharp laid a fantastic groundwork with his characters and their transformations, and Neustadter and Weber have polished the herky-jerky dialogue. This is one of those rare instances where the movie adaption is better than its source.

Rating: ★★★★☆


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