Book-to-movie adaptation review of ‘The Spectacular Now’

Mark the date. Thursday the 13th of October Two Thousand and Sixteen. I have just completed my first day of twelfth grade *sigh*. Only 176 days to go.

I could’ve been spending my last days of freedom preparing for the exams that will decide whether i end up a lawyer in an international firm or the guy that sweeps the floor at the pizzeria, but instead I lay sprawled on my bed for the past 48 hours absolutely hooked on Tim Tharp’s contemporary classic ‘The Spectacular Now’, which has been on my tbr for the past 3 years. But, i’ll be honest, my motivation for reading the book was mainly due to the critically acclaimed 2013 film of the same name. I had made a resolution to always read the book before watching the movie…i’m not so sure that was a great idea.

Many compare ‘The Spectacular Now’ to a John Green novel, however that is a grave misconception. This book is nothing like a John Green novel. Now, don’t get me wrong, i love John Green, his novels are both captivating and heart-wrenching, but there’s only so many perfectly eloquent 17 year olds i can stand to read about. Tharp’s novel is a fresh, raw take on coming of age- in every instance the plot seems to be heading in a cliched direction, Tharp throws another curve-ball at the audience.

Let me break down the plot for ya. The novel follows charming, compassionate, charismatic, life-of-the-party Sutter Keely in his senior year of high school, as he drinks (seemingly controllably, whilst exhibiting all signs of addiction), smokes pot, parties and lives his ‘invincible’ teen life to the max whilst watching his friends grow up. When he meets timid Aimee Finickey after one of his drunken escapades, Sutter takes it upon himself to develop Aimee’s self esteem, show her a splendiferous time and let her go on her merry way. Well, that was the plan, but we all know, things never go to plan!

I adored the concept of the novel and it was carried out spectacularly! Sutter is such a wonderful character to read, he truly is the kind of person everyone can be friends with. As the story is told from his perspective, the audience witnesses his sweet, charismatic and non judgemental nature, whilst his inner thoughts are honest and genuine. His character is well-rounded, strongly developed and the novel as a whole is told in such a way that is sincere and believable to the audience- Tharp is able to write like an 18 year old thinks which is gloriously rare in this genre!I love how aware Sutter is of his actions and of those around him in his mind, however he is completely unable to stop himself from making mistakes- The novel is so realistic to life. You know you shouldn’t do or say something, but you do it, whether it’s to make someone feel better or to avoid hurt feelings.

Sutter’s relationships with others are incredibly well developed in the story as well. I felt physically hurt by Ricky and Sutter’s fading relationship, something that i’m sure is all-too relatable for teens. As they drift apart it really puts in perspective Sutter’s inability to grow up and emphasises his restlessness and feelings of abandonment, by his mother, father and sister. Furthermore, his complex relationship Cassidy is interesting and pivotal to the novel. As i initially read the book i hated Cassidy, but grew to respect her and understand her as not the bad-guy, but rather that Sutter was both the protagonist and antagonist of his own story.

The wonderful thing about ‘The Spectacular Now’ is that it has layers. It’s deep and beautiful, yet not pretentious in its depiction of teenage life. However, i felt the ending was a little too bitter for my liking and the fact that Sutter does not grow up or change much by the end makes the novel feel like a waste of time…He should’ve cleaned up his act and decided that life was worth more than just a never ending “now”. That life has more to offer and you must go out and seek adventure and a purpose greater than “living in the moment”…but that’s just me. Also, i found myself a little confused about the whole Sutter-Aimee relationship. I never felt like he truly loved her, at least not in the same way that she clearly loved him, and so that whole part of the novel was a grey area for me. I don’t know if i’m making sense anymore guys, but i’m super tired, so let’s move on to the film.

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James Ponsoldt’s 2013 adaptation of ‘The Spectacular Now’ was the hardest film i’ve ever had to sit through. But don’t get the wrong idea, it wasn’t a horrible film, it was just absolutely nothing like the source material. I apologise in advance for failing you guys in my first film review, as i find myself unable to appreciate this film as a separate entity, despite it’s acclaim at the Sundance Festival. But, i’ll try, let me start with the good:
Casting was strong…for the most part. I loved the core cast of Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson- they all had great on screen chemistry. Teller in particular was just like what i’d imagined Sutter to be, however i felt Woodley’s interpretation of Aimee was far from her depiction in the novel. I understand that Woodley was attempting to steer clear of the typical nerd persona, however in doing that Aimee’s story was lost- Sutter’s mission to help Aimee become a strong individual is not believable, as she already comes off quite capable by herself.

Furthermore, the outcomes of Aimee’s relationship with Sutter are not well explored- sure, she starts drinking more, but where’s Aimee’s beaming confidence? She appears to be just a more drunken version of the same character she started as. Where was the motivation behind Sutter’s actions!!?!?! In fact, the point of his relationship with Aimee was completely lost in the film- it’s not made clear that he doesnt really like Aimee! Yes, he has a conversation with Ricky in which this is expressed, but it is not shown throughout the film! The scene with Ricky contradicts the rest of the film, as it pretty much always appears otherwise that Sutter loves Aimee. COME ON PONSOLDT! STOP WITH THE EXPOSITION AND ACTUALLY SHOW US SOMETHING!!

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But, of course, we’re always going to have some issues with casting- i feel the ages of some of the cast was obviously much older than their on-screen persona- in particular Larson. If we could get an 11 year old for ‘Stand by Me’ we can get actual 18 year olds for ‘The Spectacular Now’. The ages of some of the cast disrupted the flow of the film and left me feeling skeptical to the whole thing.

However, the film did have some sweet, heart-warmingly realistic moments, reminiscent of John Hughes films and ‘Say Anything’. This is one of the more imaginative and original teen films i’ve seen and, like the novel, it was very sincere in its depiction of life.

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But, i cannot overlook how this film blatantly ignored some of the most pivotal points of the novel. Firstly, IT WAS TURNED INTO A ROMANTIC DRAMA WHICH THE NOVEL WAS NOT! I know i complained before about the lack of a happy ending to the novel and all that, but seriously, the plot of the film fell flat for me. Sutter’s relationships with essentially every character are warped or simply removed from the picture. Ricky is featured for a grand total of perhaps 5 minutes in the whole film- Sutter’s closeness with him is not really established, so when they inevitably grow apart the audience has no reason to give a shit. Since Sutter’s relationships with others are so poorly developed, when his world is falling apart it’s very difficult to care at all. I feel that far too much was sacrificed for the sake of the romantic drama relationship between Sutter and Aimee.

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I must admit the film was well made. It warms your heart and gives you that feeling that you could conquer the world as the end credits roll, but the screenwriters certainly failed as they chose an ending that would appease the general audience, rather than sticking to the original, much more realistic ending of the novel.

But here’s the thing. Audiences don’t want reality. They want an escape from it, and that, my dear, is what film is all about.

-Aly xx

NOVEL: 7/10

FILM (as a stand-alone): 6/10

FILM (as a book adaptation): 5/10

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