Usually, I watch a film before I’m fed with even the slightest vestige of a pre-conception through media or people around me; However, James Ponsoldt’s “The Spectacular Now” was sold to me by quite a few, of whom some were vociferous in their raving of it’s apparently “genre-defying” qualities. I was initially skeptical. Very skeptical. I’ve had more than my fair share of coming-of-age dramas, comedies, dramedies, tragedies and so on in the past few years. They’ve ranged from trite, to half hearted, decent sometimes even verging on brilliant: There was the one with the girls who were very particular about their trousers, one with hot-headed curmudgeons of teens living in the middle of nowhere and indeed many more that i struggle to recollect the names of. Then , there is the all too familiar and over-crowded setting of the American high school; I catch myself silently sighing every time one of these comes out. The clawing cliches, the hypertrophic late 20s male lead (supposed to be 17), the spray tanned and ditzy female lead…well you get the idea; the whole thing is so done, dusted and rusted that one wonders why they even bother milking any more from these genres.
Considering all this, I wasn’t really jumping to watch the film in question when it came out. I didn’t even bother watching it online. I had become sort of a high school comedy/coming-of-age drama cynic. Nevertheless, constant haranguing on the part of my lady love and overwhelmingly good reviews by several established critics/websites, claiming that the film was pathbreaking and so unlike any other movie of it’s class, made me watch it.
The film was one that I liked. It is a very likeable film; very easy on the eyes, charming leads (who thankfully do look like they are in their late teens), a screenplay that doesn’t meaninglessly meander,some amazingly memorable moments and a strong emotional quotient. The film manages to do everything it sets out to,although to me,it was a minor disappointment. I am inclined to attribute this to the very thing I mentioned in the beginning: the expectations that I was ready-fed to have before watching it. In my opinion, there wasn’t much about the film that could be characterised as either pathbreaking or un-stereotypical of it’s genre. In fact it’s remarkable how diligently the film sticks to it’s genre’s template. The film could, in fact, be described as a thorough effort to check the boxes that constitute it’s kind, though what is remarkable is that the boxes have been checked with great aplomb and impeccable attention to detail: When Sutter feels embarrassed to make public his liaison with Aimee, it doesn’t feel forced or due to some inexplicable pecking-order-standing bullshit: you get it. You get why one would have to grow to like this girl. And she isn’t a feisty mean bitch who compensates for looks with a “killer-atti” either. She is shy, gluttonous for attention and lacking in self respect (just like you would expect a real-life socially awkward/romantically inexperienced teenager to be) .The mandatory “meeting-the-estranged-father” scene is so realistically scripted and so brilliantly acted out that the awkwardness almost permeates through .The scene best exemplifies the film’s triumphs.
The trajectory of the plot’s progression is and well structured and almost every scene is the subsequent logical aftermath of the former. The background score is perfectly adequate albeit largely forgettable.
It’s a film that gets most things right, though the fact that countless films have tried and tried again to do the same,seems to negate it’s achievement just a bit, in my eyes.