The Spectacular Now (2013)
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Edge of Seventeen (2016)
As long as there’s been cinema, there’s been movies about teenagers. It’s a formative time in most people’s lives where they discover their identity and make friends who change their lives. It is likely why there always seems to be a new film in theaters highlighting those awkward years. This weekend marks the release of Edge of Seventeen: an indie comedy starring Hailee Stanfield and focusing on her own struggles to get through school as she befriends a suicidal teacher. There’s plenty of humor and life to rank it among the good side of the coin.
But what if you don’t want to go out and see Edge of Seventeen this weekend? Why not see a contemporary coming of age film that also packs a punch. In this case, I have chosen to focus on The Spectacular Now: a film starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley as a high school couple who bond over drinks and enjoying the moment. The story isn’t that different from your run of the mill story. However, it is brought to life by director James Ponsoldt thanks to his naturalism and his ability to find endearment in the moments in between the romantic rhetoric of its stars. If nothing else, it feels like one of the most honest teenage films of the decade so far.
It may be difficult for some to get around the issue of Teller, who has been known to play an abrasive hothead in almost every film. The opening montage definitely gives off the impression that this is the case, but he evolves to give one of his best performances. He is a teenage alcoholic who lives fast. However, there’s something settling about Woodley’s performance that makes him change his ways. They are great together, reflecting a chemistry that few high school movies really have. There’s intervention scenes and existentialism of youth, but all of it feels poignant to understanding who Teller is. He may be a hothead, but the world around him wants him to not get too hot.
It may not be the flashiest of films, often finding its best moments in intimate moments. With that said, there’s something to seeing teenage love depicted on screen with earnestness that makes any story work. It’s beautifully atmospheric and makes the feeling of youth resonate for every viewer. It fails to get trapped into the nostalgic wagon that certain films do by focusing too directly on an era of music, technology, or fashion. While this can elevate some movies, not focusing on it in The Spectacular Now is its own triumph.
To be fair, there’s countless coming of age movies that could be paired with Edge of Seventeen. The genre is decades old and has only become more prominent since the John Hughes era. With that said, there’s a difference between your generic film and The Spectacular Now. There’s life and craft in The Spectacular Now. It feels personal and real in ways that aren’t often experienced. It also helps that its central characters have great chemistry. All of these elements and more make it not only one of the best high school movies of the decade, but one of the best in general.