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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Spectacular Now

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller star in a scene from the movie "The Spectacular Now."

"Teen Alcoholics in Love" would be a more accurate title for "The Spectacular Now" (A24), a coming-of-age saga that paints a disturbing picture of high-school life in small-town America. Based on the novel by Tim Tharp and directed by James Ponsoldt (who tackled another drinking theme in 2012's "Smashed"), the film—a familiar story of good girl meets popular but flawed guy—takes an indifferent stance toward a multitude of sins as it charts the romance between these attracted opposites.

Over the course of much angst, the audience wonders whether she will redeem him before he has the chance to corrupt her. High school has never seemed so complicated. Sutter (Miles Teller) is the most popular senior in school, with not a care in the world. He prefers to live—and party—in the moment (the "now" which he finds "spectacular"), rather than accept any responsibility or plan for his future, let alone graduate.

His fecklessness repels his longtime girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), who has the good sense to want more out of life. Sutter is also an alcoholic, forever sipping from a cup of "soda" fortified with booze from his hip flask, drifting through each day in a drunken fog. Worse still, everyone around him seems to be aware of his problem, but excuses his addiction because of his sunny personality. After an all-night bender, Sutter is found, unconscious, on a stranger's front lawn by Aimee (Shailene Woodley), who thinks he's dead.

Prince Charming awakens, however, and Aimee is besotted. Aimee has never had a boyfriend, yet the Big Man on Campus has just landed in her lap. Aimee, a dreamer who longs for companionship, ignores all the red-flag signals that should tell her to flee. Sutter leads her on but is also intrigued by her goodness. Both of them come from troubled backgrounds, but Aimee works to support her widowed mom, while Sutter is consistently enabled by his mother, divorced nurse Sara (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Over tutoring sessions and rolls in the hay, Aimee plans their future together, while Sutter buys her a flask. Fortunately, Aimee keeps her wits (if not her sobriety), and gently encourages Sutter to mend his selfish ways. First, Sutter must confront the past, and his absent father (Kyle Chandler). Sara has done everything in her power to prevent contact, and for good reason. For Dad is revealed to be a grown-up version of his son, a drunk and drifter, life of the local bar and not interested in anyone but himself.

This should be an epiphany for Sutter, but "The Spectacular Now" has more drama in store, including an ambiguous ending. The movie inhabits an irritating judgment-free zone, which works only so long Aimee is sober and able to keep a grip on the moral compass. The film contains underage drinking, nongraphic, nonmarital, possibly underage sexual activity and occasional profane and crude language.

The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog God is great. God is good. And God, in his fatherly love, has a plan for our lives that will work out for our benefit and salvation. All we have to do is trust and obey.

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