Taking place at that crossroads of restless youth and sobering adulthood, The Spectacular Now examines the angst of young romance as much as its bliss. It's about two teens finding love with each other only once they dare—or are forced—to venture outside their comfort zones and confront life beyond their high school castes.
Sutter, played by Miles Teller, is the glib cut-up, the popular kid who's the life of every party. But as graduation day approaches, encroaching reality is stripping away his rakish veneer. Lack of ambition and spiraling self-destruction has wrecked both Sutter's grades and his long-term but tumultuous relationship with it-girl Cassidy (Brie Larson), who has wised up and moved on to the class president and college-bound athlete (Dayo Okeniyi). At the cusp of adulthood, Sutter also finds himself grappling with alcoholic demons inherited from his estranged father (Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights fame).
In the middle of Sutter's tailspin, he encounters Aimee, portrayed by Shailene Woodley (best known as George Clooney's daughter in The Descendants), a classmate whose socially awkward existence doesn't extend far beyond her bookish bedroom and one protective friend. While Sutter and Aimee's bond deepens, writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ((500) Days of Summer) keep their motivations at arm's length. Their story is the messy business of love, which is not always the product of sun-bathed epiphanies.
Teller and Woodley are terrific as a complex duo that you root for despite—and perhaps because of—their personality flaws. But if you're looking for tidy finales, The Spectacular Now isn't the fable for you. The film's title conveys the joy and clarity of living in the present. But it also stands in sharp contrast to the unknowable future. Outside the pages of fairy tales, cautious optimism often suffices as a happy ending. And whether it's The Graduate, The Spectacular Now or reality, you're not assured that the guy and girl will live happily ever after. All they—and you—can really expect is hope.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Young and restless."