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Although The Spectacular Now is advertised as a teen romance in Athens, Georgia, which it is, its main theme is about relying on alcohol to get by. The acting is extraordinarily good, which makes the movie much more engrossing. Miles Teller plays Sutter Keely; Sutter, a popular guy, has been dating a popular girl, but she dumps him. He meets another girl from school, Aimee Finecky, played by Shailene Woodley. Aimee is from a poor family and she is a geek. She has never had a boyfriend before; she likes reading manga, and she does not think she will be able to go to college because she needs to stay home to help her mother out. Sutter is torn between his old life, which promises fun and excitement, and the prospect of Aimee, who is sincere and thoughtful, even though she is not hot in the classic sense. He wants both, because he can see the good in both. He is a genuinely likeable character, and he is charming. We see the attraction between him and the people he befriends. But he is also using alcohol to dull his pain, and this leads to him being out of control sometimes. This story captures the beauty and fragility of people on the verge of adulthood, facing new pressures and worries about their present and coming lives, and especially their families. We come to see that Sutter's personal pain centers around his missing father, who he hasn't seen for a long time. Sutter and Aimee take a trip to visit his father. It turns out that the father is also is unreliable and a drinker, who shirks his duties as a father. He says he was not cut out to be a family man in the traditional sense so he left Sutter and his wife. He says he does not live in the past, but lives in the now. Completely disillusioned, Sutter returns home, angry and hurt, seeing his future self in his father. He pushes her away to protect her from himself. He goes through a crisis where he comes to see himself more accurately, and he sees how he protected himself from pain by isolating himself from any true connections with others. He takes a risk and opens himself up. So it is a simple existential tale, but it is well-done. It is easy to identify with Sutter and the final message of home is touching.
The DVD has a surprising number of deleted scenes, including a whole new opening scene, and many showing how Aimee develops a drinking problem as bad as Sutter's. There is also an informative director's commentary.
© 2014 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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