The Spectacular Now Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson. Directed by James Ponsoldt. Rated R. Opens Friday.
The central relationship in The Spectacular Now, between teenage screw-up Sutter (Miles Teller) and good girl Aimee (Shailene Woodley), is so strong that it makes the sometimes contrived situations surrounding it all the more disappointing. Rarely has the awkward sweetness of teenage romance been depicted as effectively as it is between Sutter and Aimee, who meet when she discovers him passed out on a stranger’s lawn after a night of heavy drinking. The gregarious, charismatic Sutter has just been dumped by his popular girlfriend (Brie Larson), while the shy, studious Aimee has never been in a relationship. Their halting, exuberant courtship is a joy to watch.
The rest of the movie ends up on shakier ground. Director James Ponsoldt and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (working from a novel by Tim Tharp) depict Sutter’s drinking problem in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way, but it still ends up as the driving force behind some third-act contrivances, including Sutter’s reunion with his deadbeat dad (Kyle Chandler) and a sudden, traumatic accident. The supporting characters can be thinly drawn, although the movie serves Sutter’s ex-girlfriend well, making her more than just an impediment to the main characters’ romantic destiny.
Teller and Woodley are both outstanding, and whenever they’re onscreen together, the movie is mesmerizing. Ponsoldt creates a strong sense of place shooting in his hometown of Athens, Georgia, and that authenticity extends to the characters even when the plot takes them in some questionable directions. After a bit of unfortunate melodrama, the movie rights itself in the end, closing on a note of hopeful ambiguity that perfectly encapsulates the uncertainty and excitement of young love.