The Spectacular Now Review: The Pain Behind A Smile

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for The Spectacular Now (2013).  Please do not read this review until you see the movie.


Fans and critics often compare The Spectacular Now (2013), directed by James Ponsoldt, to Say Anything (1989) .  Mainly because both movies depict the haunting reality of high school life and growing up.   To unleash the harsh realm of adulthood, Say Anything masks itself as a teen romantic comedy. However, The Spectacular Now approaches a similar story without the pretty tape.  It’s a hard drink of reality.

The Spectacular Now

Plot Summary

Sutter (Miles Teller) just got dumped by his girlfriend,  Cassidy (Brie Larson). He deals with it by doing his usual routine of getting drunk and partying.  One partying night results in him passed out on Aimee Finicky(Shailene Woodley)‘s lawn. They immediately bond and eventually fall in love.

Their romance is not filled with perfect montages, but awkward moments, real issues and a couple of life threatening moments. Together they tackle  their own emotional issues and their inevitability impending separation.

Important Themes

One important theme of The Spectacular Now is the problems with living passively.  This theme unfolds in two major ways in the film. The first is through Aimee failing to take charge of her own life. This results in her mother stripping away her youth through constant working.  It is only when Aimee meets Sutter that she begins to  actively live.   Aimee’s life because of passivity is not awful but dull. 

The second display of passivity is shown through how Sutter treats life. He enjoys the moment, but  never plans for his future or even the next day.  Despite Sutter’s party boy nature, he lives unhappily.  In the end, he finally makes a decision  by finishing his college essay and going after the girl.

Overall Impression

One again, like Say Anything, The Spectacular Now needs a lot of viewings to truly understand all the complexities inside it.  It is not a typical movie about high school life. There are those party scenes, a romance and even complicated relationship with parents. However, those party scenes are shown to hint of a real addiction problem. The romance is not perfect and even makes you question if it’s love or just something to pass the time. The parent-child relationship isn’t comedic but dark and believable.

What makes the movie great is that the writing is intricate and relatable. The entire cast, everyone from the smallest role to the leads, give complicated and sincere performances.  Even the directing choices and cinematography collaborate to make this town and these people more 3-dimensional. Almost every element of The Spectacular Now works perfectly.

The Spectacular Now is one of the most critically acclaimed movie of the year (so far).  The film may not be perfect but it profoundly looks at the unhappiness of being a teen, and it breaks away from the typical high school movie stereotypes. These factors contribute to why this is a must-see movie for lovers of good storytelling.


Anyone who has survived high school life knows the pain of being a teenager. However, they also know growing up is more painful than the shallowness of the teen years. Life sucks sometimes and this movie gets that. But it also gets the beauty  of life and that there is hope for the hopeless. The Spectacular Now, as Aimee would say, is “awesome.” Not amazing, but awesome.



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