THE BENCHMARK for movies about teenagers and their melodramatic teenaged problems was set during the '80s—John Hughes just made teen movies better than anyone else, and did so with such iconoclastic, timeless fashion that it's hard to improve upon his best work. (With Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater proved it could be done.)
It's not John Hughes good, but The Spectacular Now is one of the better teen movies that the past decade has coughed up; it's up there with the recent, excellent adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Like that film, The Spectacular Now is based on a popular YA novel about a young man trying to navigate interpersonal relationships while handicapped by unresolved issues of his own.
Sutter (Miles Teller) is a high school senior whose tremendous charisma, sweetness, and smarts are in an uneasy balance with his lack of ambition and a burgeoning drinking problem. After a bad breakup, he—almost by accident—falls into a relationship with sweet, shy Aimee (Shailene Woodley). Completely smitten, Aimee drifts completely into Sutter's boozy, irresponsible orbit.
Director James Ponsoldt draws some truly remarkable performances out of his young cast. As Sutter, Miles Teller is the perfect combination of bluster and charm, and Shailene Woodley is so natural it's hard to believe she's acted before. (She has, most recently in a well-received turn in The Descendants, and she's starring in the upcoming adaptation of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. *discreet squeal*)
But while the performances are brilliant, the script runs into one major issue: This is very much Sutter's story, which is perfectly fine, but as Aimee falls increasingly in love with him, she consistently places Sutter's interests ahead of her own. This, again, would be fine—it's by no means unheard of for a young woman to subsume her own identity to a charismatic boy—except that it goes entirely unaddressed in the script, as though the filmmakers themselves don't even know it's happening.
The Spectacular Now is in many ways an absolutely lovely movie: intimate, brilliantly acted, convincingly life-like. It's just too bad the filmmakers don't understand young women as well as they understand young men.