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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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Didacus Joseph of Cadiz: Born in Cadiz, Spain, and christened Joseph Francis, the youth spent much of his free time around the Capuchin friars and their church. But his desire to enter the Franciscan Order was delayed because of the difficulty he had with his studies. Finally he was admitted to the novitiate of the Capuchins in Seville as Brother Didacus. He later was ordained a priest and sent out to preach. 
<p>His gift of preaching was soon evident. He journeyed tirelessly through the territory of Andalusia of Spain, speaking in small towns and crowded cities. His words were able to touch the minds and hearts of young and old, rich and poor, students and professors. His work in the confessional completed the conversions his words began. </p><p>This unlearned man was called "the apostle of the Holy Trinity" because of his devotion to the Trinity and the ease with which he preached about this sublime mystery. One day a child gave away his secret, crying out: "Mother, mother, see the dove resting on the shoulder of Father Didacus! I could preach like that too if a dove told me all that I should say." </p><p>Didacus was that close to God, spending nights in prayer and preparing for his sermons by severe penances. His reply to those who criticized him: "My sins and the sins of the people compel me to do it. Those who have been charged with the conversions of sinners must remember that the Lord has imposed on them the sins of all their clients." </p><p>It is said that sometimes when he preached on the love of God he would be elevated above the pulpit. Crowds in village and town squares were entranced by his words and would attempt to tear off pieces of his habit as he passed by. </p><p>He died in 1801 at age 58, a holy and revered man. He was beatified in 1894.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, when I help someone who is ill, let me never forget that love is the most important medicine. And when I am ill, Lord, please send me medical men and women who are not only wise and skilled but filled with love.


 
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