It's possible that I am a traitor to my generation. At the time, I found a huge number of the popular teen films of my youth flat-out gross. Not just vulgar, crude and artless, but morally appalling. By the time Say Anything... closed out the '80s teen-flick-fest, I was just singularly unimpressed with the canon.
I still watched Ferris Beuller with my kids, but about the mid-'90s, the casual ease with which he lied to his parents started to make me really uncomfortable. (I didn't have the kind of parents you needed to lie to to take a day off, and I am not that kind of parent, so I can't relate to a lot of the teen angst, admittedly.)
What I'm getting at is that the modern flicks seem to be far better. Young actors, as I've noted, are leaps and bounds better than they were before the proliferation of cable created a crucible for them to hone their skills. Production values are phenomenal.
Also, since it's (roughly) my generation who are the parents now, we're more-or-less complete washouts. Less "square" and more burnt-out losers—actual drags on their children. And not in the abstract off-screen way of The Breakfast Club—although I guess all kids are Bender now—but in a more in-your-face Harry Dean Stanton way, where they're stealing your paper route money for booze and crack and whatever.
(Have you noticed I'm digressing longer and longer before getting to the actual movie these days? I have. I assume it's my transition into old age where I tell long, meandering stories that don't go anywhere.)
Anyway, The Spectacular Now is the story of charming drunkard high school senior Sutter who breaks up with his fun-loving girlfriend, Cassidy, and ends up hooking up with bookish, unpopular Aimee.
Aimee is played by Shailene Woodly, who would not be out of place on a "top 100 hottest" list of a men's magazine, but they have her without any makeup and her hair back in the early scenes so...sure, why not. (Acting plays a part here, too, snark aside.)
Miles Teller plays the likable buffoon, Sutter, who has a Live For The Now philosophy (hence, the title) and a lot of pent up anger toward his mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh, herself a starlet of '80s teen flicks) regarding absentee dad (ultimately played by Kyle Chanlder, Zero Dark Thirty).
The movie follows Sutter and Aimee through their rather sweet relationship, which is marred only by Sutter's alcoholism and adherence to his "live for the moment" philosophy. And if Sutter was originally using Aimee as a rebound, he becomes increasingly attached to her, as she sees in him the potential to do greater things.
There's actually a very interesting perversion there, as Sutter has a job that he does well, but it's actually a sign of irresponsibility, since he's using it as a way to never have to do anything more challenging in his life. It's not Molly Ringwald working at the record store in Pretty In Pink. It feels more like Glengarry Glen Ross.
Anyway, you have a substance-dependent and an enabler, and there's not a lot of plausible ways to end this story happily. I understand the book ends unhappily, in fact. There are some scenes of near crushing despair toward the end of this movie, but it does at least allow for the possibility that our hero is not hopelessly screwed for the rest of his short, brutish and nasty life.
The Flower was okay with it, though hoping for something funnier and lighter-hearted, which I guess is one thing the teen movies of my youth had over these newer ones. The Boy liked it as did I.
The characters are likable and have some depth and their own arcs, and a lot happens in the space of 90 minutes. In a big picture sense, if the teen movies of the '80s were all about people living in the now because their futures were bright (because they were bright, young and full of energy), this movie contrasts that with a picture of someone who really does live totally in the now.
And even though he's a very decent fellow, he's not wearing shades because his future's so bright. It's because he's hungover.