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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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Augustine of Hippo: A Christian at 33, a priest at 36, a bishop at 41: Many people are familiar with the biographical sketch of Augustine of Hippo, sinner turned saint. But really to get to know the man is a rewarding experience. 
<p>There quickly surfaces the intensity with which he lived his life, whether his path led away from or toward God. The tears of his mother, the instructions of Ambrose and, most of all, God himself speaking to him in the Scriptures redirected Augustine’s love of life to a life of love. </p><p>Having been so deeply immersed in creature-pride of life in his early days and having drunk deeply of its bitter dregs, it is not surprising that Augustine should have turned, with a holy fierceness, against the many demon-thrusts rampant in his day. His times were truly decadent—politically, socially, morally. He was both feared and loved, like the Master. The perennial criticism leveled against him: a fundamental rigorism. </p><p>In his day, he providentially fulfilled the office of prophet. Like Jeremiah and other greats, he was hard-pressed but could not keep quiet. “I say to myself, I will not mention him,/I will speak in his name no more./But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,/imprisoned in my bones;/I grow weary holding it in,/I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).</p> American Catholic Blog Pope Francis said, “The Church gives us the life of faith in Baptism: that is the moment in which she gives birth to us as children of God, the moment she gives us the life of God, she engenders us as a mother would.”

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