This week I’ve chosen “The Spectacular Now” by Tim Tharp. It was turned into a movie festival favorite under the same name starring Miles Teller as Sutter Keely and Shailene Woodley as Aimee Finicky. The supporting roles are Brie Larson as Cassidy, Sutter’s ex-girlfriend, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Holly, Sutter’s sister, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sutter’s mom, and Kyle Chandler as Sutter’s father.
Both the book and the film tell the story of high school senior Sutter Keely, who is popular and well liked by everyone he knows. When you want to throw a party, Sutter is the man you call to get it started. He loves his life, being the charming, funny guy who doesn’t take anything seriously, has a girlfriend he loves, great friends, although he’s pretty much a functioning alcoholic. Sutter doesn’t believe his drinking is an issue, and constantly has a big gulp of Seagram’s and soda nearby from the moment he wakes up until he eventually passes out drunk at night. His parents divorced when he was young, and he hasn’t heard from his dad in years. When asked about his dad, he lies and tells everyone he’s a pilot and that’s why he’s never around because he’s too embarrassed to admit the truth. Sutter resents his mom, believing she is the reason for his dad’s absence from his life and that she pushed him away and didn’t try hard enough to make it work. At the beginning of both the book and movie, Sutter’s girlfriend Cassidy breaks up with him because she believes his hard-partying ways, lack of ambition, and his belief that he doesn’t need to prepare for the future because he’s all about living in the now are taking a negative toll on her. Soon after their break-up, Sutter goes to a party where he knows Cassidy will be to try and win her back, but is left reeling when she rebuffs him and calls him out for being drunk and tells him she has moved on to her new boyfriend Marcus, who is basically the antithesis of Sutter. Determined not to let Cassidy and her new relationship get to him, Sutter goes on a heavy bender and gets so drunk he passes out in an unknown person’s front yard.
He’s woken up by Aimee Finicky, a quiet, shy girl who only knows Sutter by his reputation, and is confused as to why Sutter was sleeping in her front yard. Sutter doesn’t know Aimee despite them being classmates, because she’s not exactly a part of the popular crowd Sutter surrounds himself with. Sutter has no recollection of how he came to be passed out in Aimee’s yard, and is unable to find his car. Aimee, who delivers newspapers for her mom to help pay the bills, offers to let Sutter ride along with her on her route so he can find it. Sutter finds himself enjoying Aimee’s company, and even after he finds his car, he continues to help her finish delivering the papers. Aimee is flattered when Sutter asks him to have lunch with him on Monday at school, and he can tell that she’s in need of a social makeover, to which he vows to himself to help her with, in the belief that he’s being a good person by doing so.
That Monday at school, he is late to his lunch with Aimee due to being held after class by his teacher and told that he’s failing and is wasting his potential, but arrives just in time to meet Aimee and her friend who makes it very clear that she doesn’t like Sutter and that Aimee shouldn’t be hanging out with him. Sutter’s best friend Ricky questions Sutter’s motives for spending time with Aimee, and tells him it’s unfair of him to let a girl like that believe that he likes her when he doesn’t. Sutter tells Ricky he’s doing a good thing by helping Aimee have more fun in her life and continues to spend time with her, even asking her to tutor him in the class he’s failing to which she happily agrees.
Sutter and Aimee begin a romantic relationship, and as they learn more about each other, Aimee urges him to seek out his father because hers passed away when she was young and she wishes she had the opportunity to spend time with him again. Sutter is reluctant at first, but finally asks his sister Holly for their father’s number and calls to set up a visit. He and Aimee travel to where his father lives a few hours away, and when they arrive it seems as if Sutter’s dad had forgotten that he’d invited them there and invites them along to the bar he is heading to. After spending time with his father, it becomes clear that he is the loser alcoholic his mother and sister claim he is, leaving Sutter feeling angry and disappointed. As Aimee and Sutter head home, he takes out his frustrations on her and they argue until he kicks her out of the car, and as she steps out of the car she is struck by another vehicle and suffers a severely broken arm. Afterwards, he feels guilty and apologizes to Aimee and she easily forgives him. The rest of the book and movie follow Sutter as he comes to terms with the fact that his life is going nowhere, his drinking becoming more and more of a problem, and he fears he’ll end up just like his father; a lonely, selfish loser. As he takes a long hard look at his life he starts to realize it is up to him alone to become a better person with a better future than the one the path he’s on will take him.
**SPOILER: Do Not Continue If You Haven’t Read/Seen The Book/Movie** The main difference between the book and movie is the ending. In the book, Sutter leaves Aimee waiting for him at the bus station, believing that his presence in her life will only lead her astray from her goals and aspirations and she leaves without him. In the movie, after initially leaving Aimee waiting for him and her leaving without him, he has a change of heart and travels to her new home in Philadelphia where she is attending college, and the film ends with them seeing each other as Aimee is walking out of class and she is clearly surprised and happy to see him. The book’s ending in my opinion is more realistic, as Sutter continues to be in denial of the state of his life, and continues down his self-destructive path. There are many times in the book when you feel like reaching through the pages and shaking Sutter into reality and force him to see the consequences of his behavior, but in the film Sutter realizes he can do more with his life and tries to be a better person. **END OF SPOILER: Feel Free To Continue Reading**
There are also some minor differences between the book and film, such as the scene at the dinner at his sister Holly’s house which Sutter brings Aimee to, and other small changes that didn’t take away from the story and just made for a better movie. Also, Shailene Woodley is much prettier than the description the author gives of her, and her role in the film is a much more fully developed character than that of her book counterpart.
In my opinion, this is one of the rare instances in which the movie is better than the book, allowing Sutter a happier story where he finally takes charge of his life. My main issue with the book, although more realistic, is that Sutter never believes he needs to change and the ending leaves you incredibly frustrated at his behavior and extremely narrow point of view.
The director James Ponsoldt (who just happened to direct one of my favorite movies of last year, The End Of The Tour – if you haven’t seen it and love David Foster Wallace, I urge you to watch it) and screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter took the book and improved upon the story, giving it life and direction that the book lacked, and made a great movie. The casting, especially Miles Teller as Sutter was brilliant. Teller is an incredibly gifted actor, his naturally charming personality was the perfect match for the character of Sutter, which allowed him to be fun but also vulnerable. The scene with his mother in the kitchen after he visited his father was heartbreaking to watch, but Teller was so raw and believable. I had never seen him act in anything but the Footloose re-make and fell in love with him after seeing his performance in that, but this is took it a step further. I now own every movie he’s been in, and his performance in Whiplash…are you serious? BRILLIANT. Ok, sorry about fangirling, back to the book/movie. Shailene Woodley also deserves praise for taking a pretty flat, one-note character and making her a complex and compelling character to watch, digging deep into Aimee’s insecurities and naive vulnerability. The author played down everything about Aimee so much that you felt as if she was nothing to Sutter, but the movie made their relationship feel real and mutual. Overall, a good book made into a great movie.
I hope you all enjoyed my review, and if you have any thoughts, feel free to subscribe and comment below or tell me what you think via Twitter or Facebook.
Coming soon: reviews of The Girls by Emma Cline, The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares, First Comes Love by Emily Giffin, and many more! Also, more Movie Mondays and Favorite Titles Fridays, as well some other weekly installments I plan on implementing.
Happy reading and viewing,