The Spectacular Now

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The Spectacular Now
The Spectacular Now film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Produced by
  • Tom McNulty
  • Shawn Levy
  • Michelle Krumm
  • Andrew Lauren
Screenplay by
Based on The Spectacular Now
by Tim Tharp
Music by Rob Simonsen
Cinematography Jess Hall
Edited by Darrin Navarro
Distributed by A24[1]
Release dates
  • January 18, 2013 (2013-01-18) (Sundance)
  • August 2, 2013 (2013-08-02) (United States, limited)
Running time
95 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.5 million[3]
Box office $6.9 million[4]

The Spectacular Now is a 2013 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by James Ponsoldt, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Tim Tharp. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it garnered critical acclaim.


Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a high school senior, charming and self-possessed. He is the life of the party and loves his job at a men's clothing store. However, he has no plans for the future and is a budding alcoholic, which causes his girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), who is unable to cope, to dump him. Drinking to numb his pain, Sutter passes out on a stranger's lawn, but is awakened the next morning by Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), a girl who wears no makeup and reads science fiction and manga during her free time. Sutter helps her with her paper route and ultimately invites her to lunch and asks her to teach him geometry to get closer to her.

Sutter invites Aimee to a party, but temporarily loses interest when he sees Cassidy. Sutter asks her to have a drink with him, but Cassidy soon leaves with her boyfriend Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi), so Sutter returns to Aimee. The two go for a walk, where Sutter introduces Aimee to alcohol and Aimee brings up getting accepted into a college in Philadelphia, though she does not feel she will be able to go as she must take care of her demanding mother. Sutter teaches Aimee to stand up to her mom and the two kiss.

When he wakes up the next morning, Sutter realizes that he asked Aimee to prom while drunk and instant messages Cassidy to hang out. Cassidy breaks down, tearfully telling Sutter that she can no longer avoid her future and that she needs to grow up, even if he does not. Marcus later confronts Sutter about what is going on with him and Cassidy, though Sutter reassures him that Cassidy is done with him. Marcus says she does not like him in the way she liked Sutter, but Sutter tells him that he should not try to be like him. Marcus thanks Sutter for his advice.

Sutter, lacking the commitment to take Aimee to prom, avoids her until Aimee's friend Krystal (Kaitlyn Dever) tells him not to treat Aimee badly as she is a genuinely good person. Sutter, taking her advice, asks Aimee to dinner with his married sister Holly (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), where Aimee talks frankly about the death of her father and her dreams of a perfect marriage, charming everyone, including Sutter. Sutter and Aimee begin to get serious, having sex for the first time, and Sutter buys Aimee a flask as a gift when they attend prom. Despite a moment where Sutter dances with Cassidy, their night goes well, and she tells him that she stood up to her mom and is going to Philadelphia, inviting him to live with her and attend a junior college.

After numerous attempts to get his father's phone number from his mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Sutter retrieves it from his sister and plans to spend a day with his dad. Bringing Aimee with him, they meet him at a motel just as he is leaving for the bar, inviting the two to join him. Sutter's father (Kyle Chandler) shares similar hedonistic views of life as Sutter, but after revealing that he left his mother (instead of being kicked out as Sutter had thought previously), he leaves to go off with a woman. Sutter is forced to pay the tab and wait for his dad to return, but after waiting for an hour, they return to the bar to see that Sutter's dad has forgotten about them and is back to drinking with his friends. Aimee attempts to comfort Sutter, confessing her love for him, but Sutter, angry and drunk, snaps at her and forces her to get out of the car, where she is hit by an oncoming car.

Aimee comes out with only a broken arm and forgives Sutter for the incident, but the experiences with his father has clearly damaged Sutter as his drinking worsens. After graduation, Cassidy informs Sutter she is going to California with Marcus. Sutter suggests he pay them a visit, but Cassidy declines, telling him she must stay out of his influence for her own good. His boss, Dan (Bob Odenkirk) tells him that he will be letting go of one of his clerks and informs Sutter that he wants him to work at the store, but Sutter must promise never to become intoxicated again. Sutter honestly states that he does not feel he is capable of keeping such a promise and shakes a disappointed and concerned Dan's hand. He then goes out for a night at the bar, leaving a heartbroken Aimee to get on the bus to Philadelphia by herself.

Sutter crashes into his mailbox after a night of heavy drinking and tearfully breaks down in front of his mom, saying he is exactly like his father and that he is an awful person, but his mother assures Sutter he is not like his father as he has the biggest heart of anyone she knows. Finally able to recognize that he is his own greatest limitation, Sutter finishes his college application and commits himself to becoming a more mature and responsible person. He drives to Philadelphia and finds Aimee as she is leaving class. As the two stare at each other, the screen cuts to black.



Principal photography commenced in Athens, Georgia in July 2012 and wrapped a month later.[5] While the novel is set in Oklahoma, director James Ponsoldt preferred to shoot in his hometown;[5] he explained:

The script didn't identify where it was set – the setting just wasn't a big city. It felt vaguely suburban – or kind of like a college town. It seemed to me that the script had a sense of place in the way that Breaking Away did. Athens was such an obvious candidate as a setting to shoot the film in – and it was really the only place I wanted to make the film. Filming in Athens was incredibly meaningful to me. We shot in the streets and houses of my childhood![6]


Box office[edit]

The Spectacular Now opened in limited release in North America on August 2, 2013 in 4 theaters and grossed $197,415 with an average of $49,354 per theater and ranking #30 at the box office. The film's wide release was in 770 theaters and it ended up earning $6,854,611 domestically and $63,980 elsewhere for a total of $6,918,591, above its estimated $2.5 million budget.[7][8]

Critical response[edit]

The Spectacular Now was warmly received at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Based on 151 critic reviews, it obtained a "Certified Fresh" score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 7.8 out of 10. The critical consensus states "The Spectacular Now is an adroit, sensitive film that avoids typical coming-of-age story trappings."[9] The film also has a score of 82 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 42 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[10]

The late Roger Ebert, in one of the last reviews he filed, awarded the film a full four stars, stating in his review:

Here is a lovely film about two high school seniors who look, speak and feel like real 18-year-old middle-American human beings. Do you have any idea how rare that is? They aren't crippled by irony. They aren't speeded up into cartoons. Their sex lives aren't insulted by scenes that treat them cheaply [...] What an affecting film this is. It respects its characters and doesn't use them for its own shabby purposes. How deeply we care about them. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are so there. Being young is a solemn business when you really care about someone. Teller has a touch of John Cusack in his Say Anything period. Woodley is beautiful in a real person sort of way, studying him with concern, and then that warm smile. We have gone through senior year with these two. We have known them. We have been them.[11]

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times also gave the film four stars out of four, describing it as "the best American movie of the year so far". He summarized his review by adding: "The Spectacular Now will bring you back to that time in your life when you were trying to soak in every moment, because everyone told you there's nothing better than your last year in high school."[12] In The Hollywood Reporter, critic Todd McCarthy called the film "a sincere, refreshingly unaffected look at teenagers and their attitudes about the future... Ordinary in some ways and extraordinary in others, The Spectacular Now benefits from an exceptional feel for its main characters on the parts of the director and lead actors."[13]

Dana Stevens of Slate also praised both the leads, commenting that "Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley have such a disarmingly direct and spontaneous connection as actors that Sutter and Aimee almost immediately come to seem like a couple you've known (or been part of) at some point in your life... The Spectacular Now captures the beauty and scariness and lacerating intensity of first love".[14] Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman described it as "one of the rare truly soulful and authentic teen movies." He compared it favorably to Say Anything... and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, saying "like them, it's a movie about the experience of being caught on the cusp and truly not knowing which way you'll land."[15]

In Variety, critic Rob Nelson wrote: "The scars and blemishes on the faces of the high-school lovers in The Spectacular Now are beautifully emblematic of director James Ponsoldt's bid to bring the American teen movie back to some semblance of reality, a bid that pays off spectacularly indeed."[16] Cinema Blend called it "the rare Sundance coming-of-age story that feels like it matters",[17] adding: "The Spectacular Now is an instant MVP of the first half of the festival, with potential breakout hit written all over it... you'll be hearing a lot about this one down the road, and it's got the goods to live up to the hype." Phoebe Reilly of Spin called the film "the next great teen movie" and "truly remarkable". She acclaimed Teller and Woodley for their "absurdly natural performances", with Sutter "uniquely irresistible" and Aimee "a perfect repertoire of nervous giggles and awkward mannerisms."[18]


At the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, The Spectacular Now received the Special Jury Award for Acting.[19]

List of awards and nominations
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients and nominees Result
Alliance of Women Film Journalists[20] December 16, 2013 Best Adapted Screenplay Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber Nominated
Best Breakthrough Performance Shailene Woodley Nominated
Best Depiction of Nudity, Sexuality or Seduction Award Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller Nominated
Gotham Awards[21] December 2, 2013 Best Actress Shailene Woodley Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards[22] March 1, 2014 Best Screenplay Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber Nominated
Best Female Lead Shailene Woodley Nominated
National Board of Review[23] December 4, 2013 Top Ten Independent Films The Spectacular Now Won
San Diego Film Critics Society[24] December 11, 2013 Best Supporting Actress Shailene Woodley Won
San Francisco Film Critics Circle[25] December 15, 2013 Best Adapted Screenplay Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber Nominated
Seattle International Film Festival[26] June 9, 2013 Youth Jury Award for Best FutureWave Feature The Spectacular Now Won
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association[27] December 16, 2013 Best Adapted Screenplay Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber Nominated
Sundance Film Festival January 26, 2013 Special Jury Award for Acting Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley Won
Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Dramatic James Ponsoldt Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association[28] December 9, 2013 Best Adapted Screenplay Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber Nominated


  1. ^ Fleming, Mike (January 21, 2013). "Sundance: A24 Buys 'The Spectacular Now'". Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "The Spectacular Now (2013) - International Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 12, 2013. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Gallant, Andre (June 28, 2012). "New film preps to shoot in Athens". Athens Banner-Herald. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  6. ^ Wardell, Gabe (January 31, 2013). "Catching up with Georgia filmmaker James Ponsoldt, whose latest feature just conquered Sundance". Creative Loafing. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "The Spectacular Now Rotten Tomatoes". 
  10. ^ "The Spectacular Now - Metacritic". 
  11. ^ Roger Ebert (August 2, 2013). "The Spectacular Now". Retrieved October 4, 2014. 
  12. ^ "The Spectacular Now - Richard Roeper review". 
  13. ^ McCarthy, Todd (January 20, 2013). "The Spectacular Now: Sundance Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  14. ^ "The Spectacular Now - Slate review". 
  15. ^ "The Spectacular Now - EW review". 
  16. ^ Nelson, Rob (January 19, 2013). "Review: "The Spectacular Now"". Variety. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  17. ^ Rich, Katey (January 19, 2013). "The Spectacular Now: The Rare Sundance Coming-Of-Age Story That Feels Like It Matters". Cinema Blend. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  18. ^ Reilly, Phoebe (January 20, 2013). "The Next Great Teen Movie Premieres at Sundance: 'The Spectacular Now'". Spin. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  19. ^ "2013 Sundance Film Festival Announces Feature Film Awards". January 26, 2013. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  20. ^ "2013 EDA Award Nominees". Alliance of Women Film Journalists. December 12, 2013. Retrieved December 16, 2013. 
  21. ^ Pond, Steve (October 24, 2013). "'12 Years a Slave' Leads Gotham Awards Nominations". The Wrap. Retrieved December 1, 2013. 
  22. ^ Kilday, Gregg (November 26, 2013). "'12 Years a Slave,' 'Nebraska' Dominate Spirit Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 1, 2013. 
  23. ^ "NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW ANNOUNCES 2013 AWARD WINNERS". The National Board of Review. December 4, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2013. 
  24. ^ Posner, Jay (December 11, 2013). "SD Film Critics name best of 2013". U-T San Diego. Retrieved December 15, 2013. 
  25. ^ Stone, Sasha (December 13, 2013). "San Francisco Film Critics Nominations". Awards Daily. Retrieved December 16, 2013. 
  26. ^ Marx, Jessica (June 9, 2013). "SIFF ANNOUNCES 2013 COMPETITION & GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE AUDIENCE AWARDS". Seattle International Film Festival. Retrieved December 16, 2013. 
  27. ^ Venhaus, Lynn (December 9, 2013). "St. Louis Film Critics choose their award nominees". Belleville News-Democrat. Retrieved December 9, 2013. 
  28. ^ Tapley, Kristopher (December 8, 2013). "'12 Years a Slave' and 'Her' lead the way with Washington D.C. critics nominations". HitFix. Retrieved December 8, 2013. 

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