A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Spectacular Now is a coming-of-age story adapted from author Tim Tharp's young adult novel about a hard-partying high school senior whose personal motto is to "live in the now." Although the movie is based on a YA book and is about high schoolers, it features constant underage alcohol consumption (the main character is an alcoholic), strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more) and a couple of realistic sex scenes (one of which shows a glimpse of breast). Still, despite the mature content, the movie -- like the book -- will make teens think and offers an opportunity for parents and teens to talk about the problems with always living for the moment, the consequences of drinking/partying, and the risks of blowing off school, work, and other responsibilities to do your own thing.
What's the story?
Based on author Tim Tharp's 2008 coming-of-age story, THE SPECTACULAR NOW is about party boy Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), who used to be one half of the school's most popular couple with fabulous ex-girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson). Not one to sit and brood, Sutter -- who always has a giant soda cup filled with spiked soda in hand -- gets so drunk at a party that he wakes up on a strange front lawn, where Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a classmate he barely recognizes, finds him during her morning paper route. Soon Sutter makes it his mission to help socially clueless, guileless pushover Aimee out of her shell with the help of a healthy dose of flattery, flirtation, and a drinking flask. As Sutter's project to help Aimee turns into a relationship, they help each other confront some issues (dealing with parental problems) while ignoring others (admitting his substance abuse).
Is it any good?
Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber set out to make a teen movie like the John Hughes dramedies they grew up watching, and they've aptly succeeded. The Spectacular Now is so much more (nuanced, well acted, thought-provoking) than the average sex- and party-obsessed teen fare. Like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Spectacular Now doesn't shy away from showing that teens can and do have sex and drink (Sutter is a basically a highly functioning alcoholic), but it also shows how deeply teens feel and think and hope to make a difference, whether it's in the immediate moment, like Sutter, or in the future, like Cassidy or Marcus (Dayo Okeniyi).
Adapted from a contemporary YA novel, there are no vampires or werewolves or totalitarian governments in sight in THE SPECTACULAR NOW; this is realistic fiction at its best and most poignant. The Spectacular Now is very much set in the now, but it's also timeless. Teller, looking a bit like a young John Cusack, is a perfect high school everyman. He's brilliant, and Woodley is every bit as vulnerable and outstanding as she was in The Descendants. If only more movies about teenagers were this honest and funny and moving (and prone to spark meaningful discussion between teens and their parents). The late Hughes would be proud.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about all of the substance use in The Spectacular Now. How is it pivotal to the story? What are the consequences of Sutter's drinking? Are they realistic? Does he have a problem? What can/should you do if you know someone who drinks that much?
How are teen sexual relationships depicted? Were you surprised to see teenagers having sex in a way that wasn't played for laughs or for raunch factor? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
Discuss Sutter's various relationships. Which ones are healthy, and which ones aren't? Does Sutter really know his parents? Why do you think he idolizes his father so much?
For those who've read the book, how faithful is the movie to the source material? Do you agree with the changes the filmmakers made? Those who haven't read the book: Does the movie make you want to read it?
- In theaters: August 2, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: January 14, 2014
- Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley
- Director: James Ponsoldt
- Studio: A24
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Book Characters, High School
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: alcohol use, language and some sexuality - all involving teens
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