3 Stars — Thought-provoking
The philosophy of living only for the now without regard for the future has existential appeal. Not knowing what tomorrow will hold or whether hard work will in fact give us a preferred future, we may choose to opt out of self-discipline and go for what will give us pleasure in a specific moment. But in so doing, we begin to live each moment regardless of moral outcomes or even biological consequences. This philosophy with its obvious consequences is explored in the coming-of-age film by James Ponsoldt appropriately titled The Spectacular Now.
Based on a novel by Tim Tharp and brought to the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, the story revolves around an 18-year-old high school senior named Sutter (Miles Teller). Seeing himself as the "life of the party," Sutter does not realize that he is actually considered "a joke" by his fellow classmates.
Having been abandoned by his father when he was young, he also doesn't realize that his philosophy of avoiding all commitments and living for the moment is how his father lives. Sutter is unaware that this philosophy not only cost his father his family but also his dignity because his mother has kept him from the truth.
When Sutter loses his girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), due to his naiveté and his irresponsible philosophy, he avoids learning anything from the breakup and loses himself in alcohol. Not knowing how, he ends up on the front lawn of "uncool" Aimee (Shailene Woodley). Charming and genuinely caring, Sutter befriends her and their unlikely romance begins.
Played with a disarming charm that is intensely engaging, Larson and Woodley present two believable teenagers who are simply trying to find their way. Although for different reasons, both were raised in fatherless homes with mothers who have little wisdom to offer them. They also seem to have no support from a larger community of extended family members or church. The only exceptions are a younger brother of Aimee's and an older sister of Sutter's, both of whom seem uninvolved in their lives, along with a teacher and employer who reach out to Sutter only to become silent when he needs their guidance most.
Left only with each other, Sutter and Aimee attempt to find their way together. But the alcohol addiction he began as a child at his father's introduction melds with his inability to make a commitment for a future together, and causes the inevitable yet painful distance between them. But that is not to say they were not good for each other or that they were not changed by their relationship.
Like all those who find love, their caring for each other has an undeniable power. It is that power of love that empowers them to enlarge their philosophy of life and brings them beyond living in the moment into a hopeful future. Though their future is uncertain the changes each of them make allows them to share it together. That is a message worthy of sharing.
» When you were in high school, did you choose to do anything in the moment for which you later had regrets? How have you dealt with your regrets? How have they changed your choices in how you live your life?
» The decision Sutter made at the end of the film implies that he and Aimee could have a life together. Do you think they will make a life together or not? Why do you answer as you do?
» It has been noted that when a person peaks in high school that they often become fixated on those experiences. Did you enjoy your high school years or not? How have you grown since you graduated?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.