The Spectacular Now
opens with a male voice-over lamenting a recent breakup. That’s the same way (500) Days of Summer
—the previous film from screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber—began, but here the narration comes courtesy of high-school senior Sutter (Miles Teller). It’s accompanied by a montage of Sutter pounding shots among packs of friends, sometimes poolside: This hard-drinking bro just wants to have fun, and he’s down about losing his ex, because, he plaintively says, “We were the life of the party.” Given the film’s pedigree and setup, you half expect a manic pixie dream girl to come along and school Sutter on being real. So that Sutter befriends and then falls for off-the-radar Aimee (The Descendants
’ Shailene Woodley)—a sweet, manga-reading girl—feels all the more refreshing. Aimee is a perfect foil to suave Sutter, her smiles endearingly goofy and the oiliness of her skin suitably teenaged. As unabashedly sincere as the film itself, she’ll unleash Sutter’s inner angel. But The Spectacular Now
, directed by James Ponsoldt, here again surprises, cementing it as more than just another teen movie. But if the film’s lesson—that Sutter must make peace with his past in order to confront his future—seems a bit pat, well, arriving at a personal understanding of such clichés is part of coming of age.