Miles Teller as Sutter Keely
Shailene Woodley as Aimee Finicky
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Holly Keely
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter’s mother
Brie Larson as Cassidy
Kyle Chandler as Sutter’s father
Dayo Okeniyi as Marcus
Kaitlyn Dever as Krystal
Masam Holden as Ricky
Gary Weeks as Joe
Directed by James Ponsoldt
High school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is the life of every party he attends, but after breaking up with his similarly fun-loving girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), he has trouble finding direction until he meets Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), who is very different from the girls he’s normally interested in. At first, she helps him with his geometry homework but they soon begin to bond, while everyone around them thinks Sutter is eventually going to break her heart.
Director James Ponsoldt’s quick follow-up to last year’s drinking dramedy “Smashed” is adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel by no less than the writers of “(500) Days of Summer” and while the movie does have a character with a drinking problem as a common thread, it’s a very different type of movie otherwise.
Miles Teller plays Sutter Keely, a constantly-drinking high school senior who has so much confidence and charm–much of it coming from his ever-present flask of alcohol–that everyone at school loves him, or at least that’s what he thinks. We meet him as he’s breaking up with his long-time girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson, who seems to be in every movie at SXSW this year) although he’s handling it fairly well. Much of Sutter’s problems come from having not grown up with his father, who was kicked out of the house over nine years prior, and his general attitude and drinking can mostly be traced back to that. After one such drinking binge he meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a brainy girl serious about her studies who agrees to help with his geometry.
Who knows what he sees in her, but whether or not you believe this relationship and how it evolves will play a large part in whether or not you buy into the movie since so much revolves around the sweet and fairly innocent romance.
In Sutter Keely, Miles Teller creates a character that traverses the line between his more comedic sidekick roles and the drama he displayed in “Rabbit Hole,” proving that he’s the real deal, while Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”) is well cast as Aimee, still feeling as fresh-faced and unjaded as an actress, and her and Teller have real chemistry which allows you to be pulled into their relationship as we watch Healy being changed by Aimee’s good influence.
You have to give Ponsoldt some credit for getting strong and naturalistic performances out of the entire cast, which is rounded out by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter’s beleaguered single mother and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (from “Smashed”) in a very different and significantly smaller role as his sister.
Because the movie isn’t a straight comedy, you always feel like it’s eventually going to get dark or something bad’s going to happen and that tonal shift happens when Sutter decides to go find his father, taking Aimee along with him. That elusive figure in Sutter’s life is played by Kyle Chandler, looking very different than we normally have seen him, partially because of his growth of stubble, but also the way he carries himself. Sutter’s father has really gone downhill since leaving his family and is a classic lowlife f*ck-up whose drinking has taken him to a point where we could easily see Sutter ending up if he doesn’t straighten out soon.
The movie certainly looks and feels very different from “Smashed” and that may partially be due to its literary background because it really feels like it comes from a book rather than Ponsoldt having the freedom to break away from the source material. The problem is that the movie just motors along for so much of its 95-minute running time without too many high points, and the musical choices aren’t as inspired as other similar movies, something that could have really helped put the film over the top emotionally or made some of those scenes more memorable.
That’s partially what makes “The Spectacular Now” a very good movie with a couple of nice moments rather than a great movie, although it does leave you with a lot to ruminate over and an incredibly moving ending.