Thinking back to when I watched “teen movies” in middle school and high school, I’m almost embarrassed by the aesthetic they showcased. Girls wore short skirts, guys wore clothes that matched, and everyone spoke in complete, clever sentences. None of this is actually true, though I did know a lot of girls in both middle and high school who dressed semi-sluttily, but the movies have always insisted that it is. Until The Spectacular Now.
The teenagers in this movie are real, fully-formed-yet-not-formed people, which is how they should be. They don’t have perfect bodies, they wear clothes that make them look more immature than they are, they don’t really know how to present themselves, they laugh nervously and insert “like” whenever possible, and they have no depth because they haven’t yet been presented with anything hard enough in their lives worth focusing on. I really, truly appreciated how genuine these characters seemed, how even though they suffered from the typical lack-of-awareness that all teenagers suffer from, they each displayed a palpable potential. Were they actual people, and not just characters on a giant screen, they gave me a sense of hope in their generation, that they’d at least turn out to be thoughtful, functioning humans. Maybe not responsible ones, but certainly ones with a conscience rooted in something.
Shailene Woodley carries herself incredibly confidently, generally speaking, but her character, Aimee, only does so with adults. Around her peers–including Brie Larson’s charismatic Cassidy, her polar opposite despite their similar taste in men–she is timid, as though she feels she shouldn’t quite be there. This selective confidence resonated strongly with me, as I always felt more comfortable around adults growing up, and always hesitated around people my own age because I suffered from not-cool-enough syndrome. I heard from one friend that her transformation from shy to fly girl, for lack of a better phrase, is a downfall, since her love interest starts her on a drinking path, but I’d argue instead that he helps her to loosen up. It’s nice to see her enjoying herself, expressing herself, letting go, being a teenager. It’s something I wish I had done more of myself at her age.
Her aforementioned love interest, Sutter, is played pretty effervescently by Miles Teller. He reminds me a whole lot of Jeremy Allen White on Shameless, in that he somehow embodies the very disparate qualities of sexy and infantile almost simultaneously. Teller is at once charismatic, yet completely untrustworthy. It’s hard to say how much of himself he truly takes seriously, but he’s found a way to earn the respect of many of the adults in his life, despite being such a consistent fuck up. The faces of Andre Royo and Bob Odenkirk pop up in fatherly, mentorly roles for Sutter, and it’s hard not to yell at him for listening to Bubs and Saul, but he sees their happy, simple teacher and store clerk lives (respectively) as boring, unchanging, settling. Settler = Teller + Sutter, a little. Even more unsettling is seeing Kyle Chandler play Sutter’s dickweed dad. Coach Taylor tried hard to go against type here, but he’s too damn wholesome.
I hope this movie (and the few others that have started bubbling to the surface) marks the revival and reboot and redux of the teen movie genre. Enough of the unrealistic expectations and the glamorization; kids need something they can connect to. And maybe, too, do nostalgic adults.