The Spectacular Now will be released sometime in August. This is
an early review.
James Ponsoldt’s follow-up to Smashed elevates the director to an unexpected level. Smashed impressed for its poignancy and ability to capture the rhythms of the day-to-day lives of its characters. But what The Spectacular Now accomplishes is significant step forward for a director clearly capable of capturing the tumultuous growth and anxieties associated with aging. While the central character in Smashed was rollicked into the realization of her dilapidating addiction, the characters in The Spectacular Now are in a sensitive period of adolescence where their misgivings are still relegated to childhood antics. But their growing awareness of the shifts in time and Ponsoldt’s ability to instill a sense of melancholic growth, gives the “now” in the picture’s title frighteningly complex implications.
With Sundance reviews doing Ponsoldt’s film the disservice of being comparing to last year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it’s best to acknowledge the significantly more sincere aura that The Spectacular Now provokes. Much like Smashed, Ponsoldt captures the rhythms of life with subtle poignancy, painfully aware of the disintegration of a high school relationship and the fluid friendships that form and fall from grace at a moment’s notice. Written by the duo responsible for (500) Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now certainly tiptoes lines of overt preciousness. But Ponsoldt’s subdues his material by having a commanding presence in framing and movement. The central leads, Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, only enhance the proceedings with grounded performances of exceptional range. The two develop a rapport and chemistry that felt very much engrained in the high school milieu of the film’s setting. With so much of the film dealing with its character’s preoccupations with time, Ponsoldt makes a conscious attempt to remove indicators of time – it’s very much a film that could have taken place at any given time or place.
The urgency found in The Spectacular Now reaches unexpected heights of affecting resonance, as pieces of the narrative exceed that of any contemporary high school films. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more emotionally mature take on the high school life in any contemporary crop of films – and this includes a majority of John Hughes’ 80s output. The Spectacular Now‘s formal accomplishments, compounded with its astute understanding of the pangs of high school romance, fall more in line with something like Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass. The two films weave a complex web of romantic infatuation while being grounded in the fervor of social and emotional insecurities. The comparison strictly meant to highlight The Spectacular Now’s accomplishments. It’s perhaps a revealing truth that few films have been capable of highlighting the shared experience of high school as intimately as The Spectacular Now.