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'The Spectacular Now' review: Hearts, performances spark fire

***1/2 (out of four)

Of many priceless moments in "The Spectacular Now," one really shattered me. High school senior Sutter (Miles Teller) has brought his shy, less-experienced girlfriend Aimee (Shailene Woodley) to a party hosted by his sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her husband. The conversation moves to marriage, and Aimee, 17 and younger than her boyfriend but the same year in school, has a well-thought-out concept of her ideal husband. Told it sounds like a dream, she responds that they are important. When Sutter raises a toast to dreams, the difference between how little he means it and how much the girl beside him, who deserves so much better, believes it could crush a walnut.

Two remarkably promising actors who will be around a long time, Woodley ("The Descendants," the upcoming "Divergent") and Teller ("Rabbit Hole," "21 and Over") are phenomenal in the roles. Their characters' every feeling and where it comes from lives on their faces with subtlety and detail. Sutter and Aimee's relationship starts in a way that's sweet only to a teenager: He's passed out on a random lawn after a night of drinking away his sorrows over losing Cassidy (Brie Larson), and Aimee checks to make sure he's OK. "You wouldn't know who I am," she says, though she knows him: Sutter's popular because he's confident, not because people actually like him. He knows she's too good for him, but affection and denial can be a powerful mix.

This is the movie that "Like Crazy" was supposed to be.

My heart was floating through "The Spectacular Now" -- and you know what they say about what goes up. Kyle Chandler ("Friday Night Lights") makes a shockingly convincing deadbeat dad, and director James Ponsoldt ("Smashed") delivers a tale both aspirational and cautionary: Many former/current introverts will admire Sutter's assurance, but it can be a thin line between charm and over-compensation. Though the movie does have a case of say-everything-you-mean-articulately-at-the-time-you-want-to, "Now" tracks the source of heartbreak without undermining the bliss.

It's both a tribute to young love and an indictment of letting yourself drift over lines you shouldn't cross, both figuratively and literally when it comes to Sutter's casual drunken driving. "Live in the now," he says. "Embrace that [bleep]." Amazing how truth sounds like fiction from people who don't actually know anything.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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