The Spectacular Now
 
            High school romance movies seem to either choose to immerse in caricature, or else go for the raunch humor with shallow characters.  “The Spectacular Now” is different because it’s actually more of an in-depth character study of two high school seniors who find themselves in an unlikely romance.
            Miles Teller is Sutter, a charming, likeable, young man who’s always the life of the party.  He’s big on “living in the moment,” and enjoying himself whenever possible. So he’s fun to be around.  He’s the one who will start the jumping in with the clothes on at the pool party.  He seems to know everyone in his school, and is friendly with all of them.  His part-time job is at a clothing store, and he’s good at charming the men into buying new shirts and ties, too.  He tells them they look great, and he’ll joke around with the customers, as if he truly enjoys what he’s doing, which he does.
            But there’s a dark side to Sutter.  It seems that all this extroversion is a compensation for an empty family life.  Sutter lives with his single Mom, who cares in theory, but she’s always working double shifts at the hospital, and comes home weary and distracted and not really there for him.  He pretends it’s OK; he scrounges his own meals and doesn’t whine at her, which she doesn’t tolerate well, anyway.  Sutter also has an older sister, who’s moved out and married, so he doesn’t see her much, either.  The biggest hole in Sutter’s family life, though, is his absent Dad.  His mother claims that he was unfaithful, and he left, and she doesn’t know where he is. 
            Sutter’s hard-partying lifestyle is assisted by frequent nips from the flask.  The people around him pretend not to notice, but he is well on his way to a serious drinking problem, because he can’t seem to get through his day without it.  When his party-hardy girlfriend decides it’s time to get serious about studies and college and distances herself from him, he rebounds with Aimee (Shailene Woodley), the class wallflower, who’s cute enough, in a girl-next-door kind of way, but seems shy and socially awkward, and is plainly flattered to receive Sutter’s attentions, and enthusiastic about dating him.
            Naturally, he charms her.  He also teaches her about taking nips from his flask, and even, as a graduation present, gives her…..her own flask.  She’s also willing to accompany him when Sutter asks her to go with him to visit his long-absent Dad.  Yes, it turns out Mom was lying when she said she didn’t know where he was.  In her mind, she was protecting her son, but Sutter’s sister finally relents and tells him.   Sutter can’t wait.
            But the encounter turns out to be a disaster.  Sutter’s Dad is more than shocked, he’s obviously distracted and preoccupied, and seems most interested in taking them to a bar so they can meet his friends there, who don’t really seem all that sociable.  In fact, Dad is more than a regular customer at that bar, he pretty much hangs out there all the time:  which means than he’s a functioning alcoholic, who really doesn’t have time for anything else.  Sutter’s Mom later characterizes him as having a very small heart, which seems to be a very accurate description.  He tells Sutter he didn’t have an affair; he just left.  And then he arranges to do just that to Sutter again:  leave, without explanation.
            Sutter is devastated.  At first he tries mimicking, or parodying, his Dad’s behavior, and hanging out at a bar as if the other patrons are his only friends in the world.  Aimee is ignored while Sutter indulges in his self-indulgent downward spiral.  At the end, he seems to realize that he is headed nowhere, but it may be too late to rescue the relationship with Aimee.
            Yes, it seems like a drama more suited to college than high school, but still, it’s poignant and silly and fun and painfully real, and it just feels genuine, especially the ways that we sometimes manage to sabotage our own happiness.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas