The Spectacular … No*

4 Sep

I really enjoy a good movie. The feeling of being swept up in a story and possibly moved in some way by its insight into reality, or its escape into gorgeous fiction, or anywhere in between, really. On the spectrum of good to great, The Spectacular Now doesn’t even use that thermometer**. When the lights first came up in the theater, my reaction was, “Good, not great.” The more I ruminated on what I’d just seen, the more frustrated, annoyed, and eye-rollish I became. Probably some spoilers ahead*** but honestly, if it’s already spoiled, is it that big a deal?

*I wanted to call this The Unspectacular Now, but this is even better.

**Before I join in on bashing this movie, I want to say it isn’t that bad. The more I thought about it, the less I liked it, but it held my interest and was well acted and mostly effective.

***I’m going to full-on spoil it, so stop now if you want to see it first.

The premise of The Spectacular Now is that a high school kid, Sutter, is a big partier in his senior year. He and his girlfriend Cassidy break up, and he spend the rest of the film almost running back to her but then not really (mostly because she won’t take him back). So, he starts to flirt with “good girl” Aimee, and ends up falling for her pretty hard — in theory. But what bothers me is, as much as they are solidly together, Sutter always flirts with the notion of winning Cassidy back. Up until their high school graduation when she lets Sutter know she’s moving to California for college, he’s still trying to get back with Cassidy. Having been the “good girl” backup plan for a jackass before, this did not exactly warm me to Sutter. That bothered me a bit, but really I just didn’t like the kid on any level. He’s supposed to be this goofy party guy that everyone loves, but I found him to be kind of a douche. 

Additionally, the movie kind-sorta exposes Sutter’s drinking problems* — even at work, he’s sneaking alcohol into his soda. And yet, he seems to just miraculously “clean up his act**” which is simply not the way addiction works. It’s not about making a choice that flips a switch one day. A lot of hard work, and often therapy, must go into fighting and beating an addiction. But by the movie’s end, I guess we’re supposed to see the love of Sutter’s mom and the people in his life as being “enough” to help break him from it?

*He’s a raging alcoholic. He’s drunk at all times. While at work, at school, while driving, while doing homework, he’s never without a big gulp half full of booze.

**It’s unclear that he ever really does get clean. He turns down a flask at graduation, but we don’t know if that’s sticking.


Aimee’s life is screwed up, too. Her dad died (whereas Sutter’s, we learn, simply left) and her mother has some issues that cause Aimee to have to run her mom’s paper route for her. Without giving literally everything away, I’ll say also that Sutter puts Aimee’s life directly in danger*, and yet she forgives him (even though he doesn’t really apologize**) and our closing scene is supposed to leave us all open to the idea that the couple might have a chance***?

*Screw it. He drives her home while hammered and spins his car off the road. He yells at her to stay away from him and makes her get out of the car and she immediately gets hit by a car and gets a serious injury.

**He’s completely in the wrong, but I found her “don’t apologize, it’s not your fault!” behavior to be the most dangerous. For her.  She’s the child of addicts and has classic Al-Anon behavior and she’s so easy to forgive. She should get as far away from him as possible.

***I think it’s clear that when he shows up to her college that she’s not happy to see him. Very end of “The Graduate” feeling.

Overall, I think my main criticism of this film is that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. In trying so hard to be “real,” it misses the mark vastly*. I just found out from finding the movie poster for this very blog post that the writers of 500 Days of Summer worked on this, too, and that doesn’t surprise me. That was a movie where the final scene was our main character meeting a girl named Autumn. Autumn**, for chrissakes! That sort of heavy-handed approach carries over to The Spectacular Now, except that the vision is not nearly as clear so it ends up saying nothing***.

*This movie is about how a girl dealing with the death of her father from addiction and her mother’s instability who meets a raging alcoholic who gets her to start drinking, has sex with her, puts her life in danger and then follows her to college after getting fired from his job for refusing to stop drinking at work. It thinks it’s a movie about “living in the moment!” 

**After dating Summer. Winter is his rebound girl in the finale of the trilogy. 

***I really wanted to like it. They even had Bubbles as Sutter’s teacher, Coach from FNL as his dad and Saul from Breaking Bad as his boss, but all the great acting goes to waste by a movie that just completely misses the point.


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