Tell me that cinema is dead. Go ahead. Tell me.
Then go see “The Spectacular Now.” Argument over.
Starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, two of Hollywood’s finest young actors, “The Spectacular Now” introduces us to Sutter, played by Teller, as he’s writing a letter to a college admissions officer, trying to articulate what makes him special. We learn he was dumped by his gorgeous and popular girlfriend, a situation he handled like he handles everything else, with humor and alcohol.
When he awakens from his post-breakup drunken stupor, Sutter’s discovered by Woodley’s Aimee. They immediately form a bond but Sutter still pines for his ex. It’s a brilliant, tense dynamic, because you suspect that Sutton is using Aimee and you just know that this super-cool girl is going to get her heart crushed.
In one of many fantastic scenes, Sutter brings Aimee to his house for dinner with his family, during which she blurts out that her father is dead. It’s a moment that doesn’t just let the air out of the dining room, it deflates the entire theater. If Woodley’s already powerful performance hasn’t made you feel for this girl by now, this is the moment that hooks you – and also hooks Sutter, whose father abandoned him long ago.
While the dining room scene is a pivotal moment, director James Ponsoldt’s best work takes place in one of the best first-kiss scenes ever put on film. It’s a perfect storm of filmmaking. Everything that leads up to this kiss – a scene shot in one take and sprinkled with some deft improvisation and excellent character work by Woodley and Teller – makes it a classic moment.
Right here, right now, I’m nominating this for best kiss at next year’s MTV Movie awards. It’s a moment so real it’s as if you can reach out and touch it.
Adding to this original teen romance is an unexpected performance from Kyle Chandler as Tommy, Sutter’s dad. While Chandler possesses the looks and charm of a leading man, on ample display during his Emmy-winning run on TV’s “Friday Night Lights,” here he plays a heartless character with a subhuman soul that renders him physically ugly.
Tommy’s a deadbeat dad with nary a care in the world, except for himself, characteristics that are instantly recognizable in Chandler’s performance. He’s not even in the film for very long yet you will walk out of the theater thinking about him.
A lot has been written about Shailene Woodley since her critically acclaimed work in 2011′s “The Descendants,” and rightfully so. She is, perhaps, her generation’s most unassuming and natural actress (Jennifer Lawrence is a close second). This is, after all, a young woman who took a summer job at American Apparel while on hiatus from starring in ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Who she is in person is who you see on screen: someone who exists in the moment and wears her passion and heart on her sleeve.
Not enough has been written about Woodley’s co-star, Miles Teller. “The Spectacular Now” is his breakout role and Hollywood, you are now on notice. As Sutter, Teller is simultaneously cocky, hilarious and heartbreaking. He’s a cross between John Cusack and Harrison Ford. If it’s true that the upcoming “Star Wars” movie will include a young Han Solo, Teller should be at the top of that casting list.
It’s too easy to say “The Spectacular Now” should be called “The Spectacular Wow,” but I come from radio, where we relish cheesy wordplay. So there. Teller and Woodley have the kind of on-screen chemistry that could lead to many more pairings. It’s already led to at least one more: They both star in the forthcoming action-romance “Divergent.”
Buying a ticket for “The Spectacular Now” is an endorsement for originality and realism in movies. Please endorse this movie.
Four-and-a-half out of five stars.