The Spectacular Now made a splash at Sundance this year, and rightfully so. The movie, starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, is quickly becoming one of the best reviewed movies of the year and continues chart on reviewers best films of the year lists.
The film is an adaptation of Tim Tharp’s novel of the same name and does a fantastic job of tapping into today’s youth without sugarcoating anything. What you see between Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) and Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley) feels as real as if you were sitting in a classroom today.
In the movie, Sutter Keelylives in the now. It’s a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he’s the life of the party, loves his job at a men’s clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he’s never far from his supersized, whisky-fortified thirst-master cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley) hovering over him. She’s different: the “nice girl” who reads science fiction and doesn’t have a boyfriend. She does have dreams, while Sutter lives in a world of impressive self-delusion. And yet they’re drawn to each other.
The movie has hardship, heart and brings some laughs and features an outstanding supporting cast in Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler and Kaitlyn Dever. So just how true is the movie to the book?
Shailene chose to not read the book beforehand but she was a massive fan of the script. “I didn’t read the book because Amy was depicted very differently in the book,” she told us during the press junket. “The way I chose to play her in the movie was a sort of a very different choice. So, I didn’t read the books, didn’t really feel like it applied to the movie that we were making.”
Miles, on the other hand, did read the book but made a few adjustments when it came to bringing Sutter to life on the big screen. “I read the book [because] important for me. The book is completely from Sutter’s point of view. In the book, Sutter is a little different. Sutter says things like “fabulouso” and refers to himself as the Sutter man. There are certain things that I wanted to carry over into the movie just to give a wink at the people that did read the book but I couldn’t say fabulouso with a straight face.”
The screenplay was written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, who also wrote 500 Days of Summer as well as the upcoming The Fault in Our Stars. For these two, they have managed to really tap into the heart of teens today and how to make a story believable.
“These are just the stories we enjoy telling regardless of the age or era,” Neustadter told us. “I feel like everything we’ve ever done has been a coming-of-age story somehow. We’ve written them about older people, that are set in 16th century Verona. They’re just the stories we love and somehow relate to. We’re not trying to make it of the now so much so it feels like that. When you have to put in Facebook and all the things that kids are doing, it takes you out of it and it becomes less current because that stuff is being replaced in 5 seconds. The things that are everlasting are the way you feel, the way you interact with your friends and young love is the same regardless all the time. Those are the things we just gravitate towards.”
Weber added that they like to see movies that they would want to see. “For us, it’s as simple as lets go write the movie we’d want to see. For us, we never write thinking we need a set piece here or a trailer moment here. For us, it’s what would really happen. That’s probably the tool we rely on more than any other.”
The screenwriters weren’t the only ones to have a personal connection to the movie. Director James Ponsoldt had a hit last year with Smashed and told us he’d been looking for a script like The Spectacular Now for a while.
“I had really never had any interest in directing someone else’s script. I sort of always imagined I’d direct my own stuff,” he said. “I was flattered they wanted me to read it so I checked it out and it was one of the fastest reads I’ve ever had in my life. It was a fantastic script. On a personal level, I had always been interested in writing a script that took place in late adolescent that was sort of based on my own experiences. Essentially this script was that. I kind of was Sutter, a little bit younger for me. By the time I was at the end of high school, I had a better sense of where I was going but between 12 and 16 I was aimless and really self destructive and there actually was a girl who helped ground my life and probably save my life.”
One thing that will really stand out when you watch the movie is the chemistry between Miles & Shailene. Miles attributes the relationship to their acting styles. “I think Shailene and I are both very present actors. When you get a scene, it’s a shared scene.”
Miles continued, “I don’t know what Shailene’s going to do, I kind of know what I’m going to do. At the same time, I’m not going to force her to do anything. At the end of the day, you’re talking to a person, not at a person. If she was doing something different, you just respond to it. I think both of us enjoyed not really knowing where the scene was going to go necessarily and just being present and in the moment. We match up well in that regard.”
Shailene added, “We were very lucky we just naturally have a great rhythm with each other.” The two reunited to show off a different side of their chemistry in the highly anticipated Divergent, in which they play rivals.
The Spectacular Now is in theaters today and it is definitely in our top 5 movies of the year.
Check out a few more highlights from our interviews with Miles, Shailene, James, Scott and Michael below.
Miles on what he looks for in a script: I don’t know. I guess last year was interesting. I really wasn’t looking to play a high schooler at the time I did this. I did this last year and I did four films last year. I did two post college, another one early 20s. I did it because it was the best script and I always want to do the best thing available. For me, I have a high interest in comedy. At the same time, I just did two comedies so I’m going to do something in September that’s more dramatic.
On what they learned from the film: Miles: Really, at the end of it, I thought I had grown so much as an actor. I had done Get a Job beforehand and it was the first movie that I was 1 on a call sheet, that I was the lead in. I remember just being very uncomfortable with that because there were all these actors around me, Bryan Cranston & Anna Kendrick, all these actors that have been much more established but I was the main character. I felt sheepish and I didn’t own up to the fact that it was my movie. I didn’t really know what to do with it. By the end of Spectacular now, because I’m in every scene in that movie, and you shoot it in 25 days and it’s just go, there’s not really any time to just shy away. I called it bootcamp. Then I realized, if you are a lead in a film, carry it with a lot of pride. You really do need to be kind of a leader. It’s your story, own it.
Shailene: I don’t know if it was learn, but I had never done a movie where I was able to play as much as an actor. In The Descendants, Alexander kind of gave us free reign and we just played the whole time but I only had a few scenes with a guy my age in that movie. I’ve never done a movie where our relationship allowed for that kind of playful existence so that was really fun and really exciting. There was a lot of oners which was very new as well.
Scott on the film being rated R: One of the big things in the rating system is drinking. We knew there was no way of avoiding that so this was always going to be an R so that was actually kind of a freeing device for us so we didn’t have to count our f words. Kids talk a certain way and if you have to go PG-13 with it, I think kids are going to go that doesn’t sound like us.