It's official, you should probably get used to hearing the name "James Ponsoldt". The young director has swarmed onto the scene with impressionable debut and sophomore works such as Off the Black and Smashed (both are worth checking out if you haven't already). But in 2013, just one year after his previous release, Ponsoldt returns with what many are calling his best picture to date, The Spectacular Now.
Sutter Keely (played by Miles Teller) is a fun and energetic senior in high school who fails to take anything seriously. But after a misunderstanding leads to a breakup with his current girlfriend, the budding alcoholic responds the only way he knows how to ... with a rowdy night of binge drinking. The following morning a bright and shy senior named Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) stumbles across Sutter's passed out body on a random front lawn. The two teenagers end up spending the day together and that begins their unlikely and presumably doomed relationship.
The Spectacular Now shines by riding a wave of emotions on the shoulders of its endearing lead characters. Proving to be the role of a lifetime for Miles Teller, the convincing young actor embraces the opportunity by delivering a multidimensional character with legitimate struggles that lure the audience in with ease. Perhaps the greatest achievement regarding The Spectacular Now is the authenticity of its characters. Each and every individual you encounter in the film has their own set of flaws. No one is all knowing or perfectly content with their situation, and that feels like a rarity in movies these days. Along with screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber who collaborated to adapt the screenplay from a Tim Tharp novel of the same name, director James Ponsoldt utilizes his leads in a unique way. Sutter and Aimee are very different people who complement one another quite well. As their relationship blossoms, the teenagers are able to break from their shells and face the world in front of them. Therefore, The Spectacular Now is a gratifying film that examines the transition from youth to adulthood in a bold and honest light.
The third feature from Ponsoldt rarely moves along without a hitch. The initial roadblock comes in the form of Sutter's obvious drinking problem. The ease at which he can obtain alcohol and weasel his way into bars seems wildly unbelievable. The film could have simply avoided such a contrived subplot by offering a more plausible personal struggle. There's rarely a scene without Sutter sipping from a flask or mixing a cocktail, and it becomes a bit too overbearing. But despite flaws with a few secondary and minor aspects of the feature, The Spectacular Now hurdles these obstacles and wins over its audience.
As yet another winning effort from this year's crop of Sundance Film Festival selections, James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now is both compelling and forthright. While it lacks credibility in certain areas and the ending was about one scene too long in my opinion, The Spectacular Now is another strong film from a very promising up-and-coming director. Check it out in select theatres now.