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Cinema Signal: A high school romance that's unlike anything in the genre. MOBILE version |
. "The Spectacular Now"

With a title like this I held out no hope for any kind of positive reaction to this film. The early going more or less confirmed that evaluation as I sensed another slacker story that was going to annoy me instead of capturing my interest. And then, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller, "Project X") met Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley, "The Descendants") and the apparent superficiality reveals itself in director James Ponsoldt's tale, as a hook to young romance on psychologically shaky ground.

Amazing. Which I say only because the word is repeated thirty times or more in the lingo of today's language-lazy student body.

Our hero is an overconfident, naturally attractive high school senior who is pretty much a babe-magnet and an incipient alcoholic. Because of a predilection to be less than faithful when an opportunity presents itself, the party-goer is having girlfriend (Brie Larson) problems. Which is when he meets Aimee, at the crack of dawn, when she awakens him from an alcohol induced stupor on her front lawn where he passed out.

Thinking of her as a month-long diversion, he takes advantage of this new opportunity. She, on the other hand, flowing with sweetness and a complete lack of artificiality, thinks she's found her Knight. She's immediately accessible and agreeable to Sutter's every thought or invitation. And, she turns the film into a romance of unexpected depth that delves into the weeds of psychological scarring. The "got-it-made" boy has a lot going on that challenges that appearance. And, the girl he thinks of as a fling is the one unlocking his demons.

Saddled with the disappearance of his father several years before and trying to make sense of it, and the reason mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh, "Synecdoche, New York") refuses to allow him to contact the absent dad, he struggles with issues of self-worth and the conviction that no one can ever truly love him. In an irony, Sutter's parental problem gives him an insight when he learns of Aimee's mother problems and lectures her on asserting her individuality and qualifications for respect -- paralleling his own inability to climb that wall.

Woodley's utter sweetness, complete lack of artificiality or protective play-acting is the key to turning what might have been a generic high-school romance into an edgy character drama with dark, uncompromising undertones -- a keeper. Golly, this girl is the real thing -- an actress who can make you forget that you're not watching a home movie of an actual girl next door.

When Sutter, at last, gets a chance to meet his dad (Kyle Chandler, "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo"), with Aimee lovingly at his side, it's an event of earthshaking proportions.

This is a sad tune of a movie that distinguishes itself among coming-of-age drama by the turns it takes and perfect casting.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller
High school seniors with a future no one expected.

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