Fran Hoepfner's Elevated Cinema: 'The Spectacular Now'

Fran Hoepfner is a comedian and writer in Chicago. She reviews films under the influence.

The Film: The Spectacular Now

The Director: James Ponsoldt

The Year It Came Out: 2013

How I Watched It: Amazon Prime

Have I Seen It Before?: In theaters, the year it came out. Most of what I remember is being very angry with Kyle Chandler.

How High Was I?: Somewhat to fairly

Okay, So: I saw The Spectacular Now when it was first released. I was still open to the idea of hot, hyper-articulate teens falling in love with each other despite, you know, circumstances or something. For the record, I still sort of am. The Spectacular Now marketed itself as Not Like Other Movies, as in it was darker and seemingly more realistic than other saccharine teen love stories.

The Spectacular Now is about two high school students, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) and Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), who, despite the high school popularity totem pole, meet and fall in love their senior year. This is a strange and special thing because Sutter is hot and cool but Aimee is hot and lame. Aimee’s lameness is qualified by three things: 1) liking math, 2) liking anime, and 3) never having had a boyfriend. That said, Aimee, whose name I have spelled incorrectly four different times since I began writing, and Sutter bond over their mutual hotness as well as coming from broken or complicated households. Sutter’s dad left when he was young. Aimee has a fraught relationship with her mother.

Image via IMDB

 I cannot for the life of me figure out the social structure of this high school

The real conflict in this movie is that Sutter is a burgeoning alcoholic (see above: “cool”) and Aimee is not a burgeoning alcoholic (see above: “lame”). Sutter is spiraling out of control as one of those guys who is clearly going to peak in high school, and he’s dragging Aimee right down with him. It’s messy and realistic in only the way movies can be realistic, by which I mean occasionally characters use “um” and “uh” in the right ways. They also fight and cry, and I got very stressed out trying to watch them make their love work.

The Spectacular Now is not a confusing movie on the surface level, but I am struggling through this rewatch because I cannot for the life of me figure out the social structure of this high school. I cannot latch onto the idea that Aimee would not be a cool kid just because she liked math. At my high school, if you were hot, you were cool. We had no hot loser kids, and this is the truth. We had hot smart kids, of course, and they were considered cool. Then we had normal-looking kids, and then we had ugly, weird kids. But maybe it’s not that Sutter is cool and Aimee is lame, but they fall into the cool and lame parts of the normal-looking kids. Like maybe there are echelons of kids we don’t even know about in this high school. I know I’m getting entrenched in the politics of this, but Sutter’s best friend is also weird and scrawny but talks like a cool guy. Is it all about confidence? Is that what teens know and I don’t? This is a dumb plot point to get hung up on––it’s not a plot point at all, actually––but a significant portion of this movie is spent with Aimee saying, “I’m not cool! I’m lame!” and me staring at my laptop hissing, “No.”

Image via IMDB

These kids are so miserable in a way that is somewhat beautiful like in a poetic way, sure, I guess

I’m aware of the fact that in the reality of “movies,” everyone is hot. I’m not stupid! I’ve seen hot people before on a screen. But I also want to grab Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley by their beautiful teen faces and go, “You’re both beautiful teens! Make this work! It’s not hard!”

What I’m getting out of The Spectacular Now is that maybe being hot doesn’t solve a lot of problems. Maybe it doesn’t solve any problems! These kids are so miserable in a way that is somewhat beautiful like in a poetic way, sure, I guess, but mostly stressful to me. I’m watching, and I’m fully conscious of being a normal if not somewhat ugly adult who is alone. Being hot isn’t going to solve my problems because it doesn’t do anything for the kids in The Spectacular Now. They are not immune to anything. Problems are anywhere. We are doomed.

There’s not a ton to tell you about the body of the film other than it’s a mess. They’re doomed from the start, these beautiful idiots, and by the time they go to meet Sutter’s estranged father, Tommy (Kyle Chandler), it’s a nightmare. Kyle Chandler! What the hell are you doing? I spent so much time desperately trying to root for these kind-hearted hot young adults, and you come in and fuck it all up! By the final half hour of the film, I was repeatedly sighing. I worried about these characters, maybe more than necessary. I wanted a lot of them to catch up on sleep as best as possible. Is that so much to ask?

I recommend watching The Spectacular Now while high in the same way I recommend staying up all night talking about why you think you’re single while high. Both reach a meaningful and heartfelt conclusion––albeit somewhat ambiguous, like life itself!––but it’s also stressful and you may fall asleep for a few stretches.