JAMES PONSOLDT’S THE SPECTACULAR NOW — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Teenage alcoholism is rarely handled so openly and honestly as it is in The Spectacular Now, which was director James Ponsoldt’s excellent third film, after his 2006 debut Off the Black (which I’ve not seen), and his striking 2012 sophomore effort, Smashed, which was another film to deal with out of control substance abuse. The sensitive screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, which was based on Tim Tharp’s novel, hit all the proper notes of sadness, romance, and believable interpersonal relationships, with the combo of Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley absolutely nailing their roles, and helping to create two people who we absolutely want to see succeed despite their inherent flaws, Teller in particular. This film really understands the high school experience, young love, and first sexual experiences, and contains moments of introspection that are at times startling in their unanticipated depth; credit the astute writing with never overplaying its hand at any moment.

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The final scene and last few moments of this film land with complete perfection, asking the viewer to contemplate the future for its main characters in a way that feels satisfying and mysterious all at once. The themes explored in this film will be tough for some, and the lived-in quality that the filmmaking team established rooted the entire piece in a believable atmosphere; there could be aspects to this story that hit very close to home for some viewers. There’s a rather amazing supporting cast which includes Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kaitlyn Dever, and Bob Odenkirk, with everyone getting a scene or two to really deliver the goods. After making a splash at Sundance, this film got lost in the shuffle with a late summer release date in 2013, but is available on Blu-ray and various streaming providers, and feels like a film that’s just waiting to find a deserved cult following.

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