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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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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, keep me in your care. Guard me in my actions. Teach me to love, and help me to turn to you throughout the day. The world is filled with temptations. As I move through my day, keep me close. May those I encounter feel your loving presence. Lord, be the work of my hands and my heart. Amen.

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