The Spectacular Now Movie Poster Image

The Spectacular Now

Poignant teen drama doesn't shy away from alcohol or sex.
Parents recommend
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Romance
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 95 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Even though Sutter is drunk a lot of the time, he does spout some thought-provoking ideas, like "embrace the weird" or "live in the now." He supports and encourages everyone around him, even his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend, to see the best in/stand up for themselves. The movie shows how blurry the line between loving someone and enabling them is, and it will make teens think about the downside of partying too much.

Positive role models

Sutter has a big heart but is obviously an alcoholic who can't function without maintaining a daily "buzz" or being flat-out drunk. Marcus is an upright, mature guy who loves Cassidy. Bob cares about Sutter and tries to convince him to stop drinking. Sutter's mother and sister love him but don't really know how to help convince him that he's loved. Aimee loves Sutter unconditionally.

Violence

The movie isn't violent, but after drinking and driving, Sutter nearly gets in an accident on the highway and pulls over, which leads to another character getting hit by a car.

Sex

Sutter makes it clear from the beginning that he and his ex were sexually active (a brief, non-graphic shot shows them having sex on a bed). Sutter and Aimee's first time together is a fairly lengthy scene, with Aimee's breasts briefly visible (she's topless, but her hair is so long that it covers most of her). Sutter and his best friend discuss how far they've gone after a date. 

Language

Language is frequent and includes "motherf---er," "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "p---y," "hell," "damn," "oh my God," "goddamn," and a few insults.

Consumerism

Brands seen/featured include Apple (iPhone and desktop), Honda Accord, Chevy Durango, Bud Light/Blue Star beer, Publix supermarket, Jansport backpack.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The teen main character is hardly ever sober and walks around constantly with a big cup of soda that he mixes with gin or vodka. He has a flask that he uses to spike his drinks, and, at a party, he easily downs cup after cup of beer. Hard liquor, shots, beer -- he drinks it all. He's clearly an alcoholic, and he helps convince a non-drinking girl to drink heavily like him. Teens also smoke cigarettes and are served alcohol by adults -- in the main character's case, even by his own estranged (and equally hard-drinking) father.

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?

QUALITY

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.

Families can talk 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 2, 2013
DVD/Streaming release date: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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Parent of a 10 and 13 year old Written byOlenka August 24, 2013

Spectacular acting, but a spectacular bummer about today's youth

Both main characters are tragic. The boy, for obvious reasons once you see the film. The girl, even more so, for being incredibly desperate and willing to do anything to secure this boy's love. The personalized flask was disturbing to me, as was the excessive swearing by the teens. A great movie to take older teens to so they can see how NOT to behave. Acting was superb but depressing on many fronts. I truly hope teens like these are more of an anomoly than the norm in high schools today.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written byBlueHorse February 18, 2014

Wow.....

This movie is very good. The actors are very at ease and are spectacular. There is not a wasted scene. I really do think Sutter was a good role model, because although the alcoholism and sex are inappropriate, he is charming, always knows what to say, encourages people he barely knows and he has a big heart. Sutter is always drunk, and lies about his age to get into bars and have drinks. He parties A LOT. Aimee, while also very into alcohol is a good role model. She loves Sutter for who he is, and she is an outcast that is smart. She got into college, which is always something that that is positive. I would say the two biggest problems were the drinking and the sex.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent Written byalisonmarie August 30, 2013

A beautiful, dark story with a good heart

i had read this book a while back and when i found out they were making a movie, i was ecstatic. sutter + aimee's story is not one for the weary. it's dark and poignant, romantic, intense. i brought my teenage daughter (15) with me because, without giving anything away, i knew the movie was going to have a few sexual situations + lots of drinking/swearing, but i also knew at its very core, was going to have a great heart. my daughter didn't like this movie. she loved it. she fell in love with aimee + sutter's relationship. she cried when they fought. she related to their ups and downs as a couple. she understood why they made the choices they did, and that made me realize i made the right choice taking her with me to the screening. i rated this "on" for 15 and up, and here's what you need to know. there is a brief sex scene early on with sutter and his ex-girlfriend. it's kind of graphic but, again, fleeting. there is another sex scene that occurs in the first half of the movie; this one is much lengthier and intense. they show the couple retrieving a condom, putting on the condom, taking off their clothes, a glimpse of breast and a bit of thrusting. sutter is a functioning alcoholic, and his behavior is erratic. he drinks and drives, shows up to work loaded, and there are a few party scenes and bar scenes where people are drinking heavily and doing shots. there is tons of "f**k" and "s**t" and everything in between. i would say the language itself highly contributed to the R-rating. lastly, although this story has a good heart, as i mentioned earlier, it's also very sad and very dark at times. that's not a bad thing, but it might be too heavy for some. there are strained relationships with the main characters' parents, and the alcoholism becomes more of an issue as the story wears on. however, i think this gives you more of an opportunity to have a good conversation with your teen about all of the above. allow them to be open and honest with you and ask them questions; i took a cue from the suggested discussion topics here (on common sense media) to talk to my daughter about on the way home and we ended up having a really great conversation. lastly, aside from everything i mentioned above, the other lovely dimension to this movie were the actors' ability to make you believe in and fall in love with the characters. miles teller was superb in his role as sutter keely. he makes you laugh at him and adore him and be furious at him all at once. shailene woodley (who my daughter recognized from the show 'the secret life of the american teenager') is a lovable, honest, beautiful aimee. teller and woodley's chemistry alone make the movie worth watching; throw in the amazing little story/script and you have a winner. i would highly recommend this movie for some parent-teen daughter/son bonding. take your teen to dinner and a movie and revel for a few hours in the joys of what it's like to be a senior in high school again :)
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking