The Spectacular Now

Shailene as: Aimee Finecky
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Duration: 95 minutes
Written by: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, Tim Tharp (novel)
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Other cast: Miles Teller, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Brie Larson
Release date: August 2, 2013 (limited)
Production budget: $2.5m (estimated)
Total worldwide gross: $6.8m
Filming locations: Athens, Georgia

With sly humor and an intensity of feeling, The Spectacular Now creates a vivid, three-dimensional portrait of youth confronting the funny, thrilling and perilous business of modern love and adulthood. This is the tale of Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a high school senior and effortless charmer, and of how he unexpectedly falls in love with “the good girl” Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley). What starts as an unlikely romance becomes a sharp-eyed, straight-up snapshot of the heady confusion and haunting passion of youth – one that doesn’t look for tidy truths. The film was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber (500 Days of Summer) and also features wonderful supporting turns from Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Production Info
  • Filming took place over 25 days in the summer of 2012, on location in Athens, Georgia. Principal photography officially began on July 26, 2012.
  • Athens, GA was the childhood home of director James Ponsoldt, and this marked the first time that a feature had been filmed entirely in the college town.
  • The film was stuck in development for a number of years, with various actors, directors and studios initially linked. Both Nicholas Hoult and Thomas McDonnell were in early contention for the role of Sutter, while Saoirse Ronan was considered for Shailene Woodley’s role as Aimee. Directors Lee Toland Krieger and Marc Webb were attached at different stages of pre-production. Both Woodley and Teller had auditioned several times for these directors and felt they had “bombed”, according to their 2013 interview with Huffington Post. However, neither had to audition for James Ponsoldt when he was handed the directorial responsibility. Fox Searchlight were the intended distributors when the project was announced in 2009.
  • According to director James Ponsoldt, he was worried that Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley wouldn’t get along after he saw them interact at a lunch he arranged. Teller (who was late to meeting because he had been in Las Vegas with friends the night before) was outgoing and energetic, while Woodley, though amused by Teller, was quiet and for the most part kept to herself unless she was spoken to. After the lunch was over and the director was driving away, he noticed Woodley and Teller talking in the parking lot, but decided to leave them alone – he later found out that the two of them spent two hours talking and getting to know each other in the parking lot. Teller and Woodley are now close friends.
  • During pre-production, the script began to change. Shailene Woodley was worried that the new rewrites would make the story less honest, and had even called Miles Teller to tell him that she was considering of dropping out of the project. Teller managed to convince her to stay on the movie, and the rewrites never happened.
  • After four years of development, various directors and lead actors dropping out of the project, screenwriter Scott Neustadter credits Shailene Woodley with the film’s eventual production, telling Backstage: “It took Shailene saying, ‘This is the thing I want to do more than anything else’ for it to really come together. Her interest is what was really the impetus that got us into production.”
  • Originally the scene where Sutter’s father asks him to take care of the tab at the bar was supposed to end after Tommy walks away from the table. Sutter looking through his wallet, asking Aimee if she has any money, and then the two of them trying to put together enough money to pay was all improvised by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. The director thought it was such a sad moment that he kept it in the movie.
  • The screenplay for the film was featured in the 2009 Blacklist; a list of the “most liked” unmade scripts of the year.
  • Aimee and Sutter’s love scene was shot in a single, unbroken take that lasts well over two minutes.
  • In order to secure actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose agents were hesitant about the role due to the small budget, producers told her agents that Julianne Moore also desperately wanted the role and if she didn’t say yes within that day, they’d give it to Moore.
  • The original draft of the script was focused primarily on Sutter’s battle with diabetes. His habitual drinking of large beverages remains a key feature of the film.
  • The conversation between Sutter and Aimee at the lake party (that leads to their first kiss) runs for approximately 3 minutes and 37 seconds. It features one continuous take without cuts.
  • Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley disagree on what happened between their two characters after the movie ends. Teller believes that the two went to lunch, but that the two would not reconcile since Aimee appears to have grown stronger and has moved on. Woodley agreed that the two went to lunch, but she believes that because of their age and immaturity, the two characters reconciled romantically, despite the fact that it wouldn’t be healthy.
  • Character Quotes
  • I know that my marriage will work. I’ve thought it all out. My husband and I will live on a horse ranch, and I will work for NASA. And he’ll do something completely different. So that we offset each other, you know? Like, we’ll have some things in common but then we’ll also bring all these different dimensions to the table, so that, you know, life doesn’t get boring. I know it’s gonna work.
  • I think it’s good to have dreams. Don’t you?
  • I’ll make you a deal. I will stand up to my mom if you’ll stand up to yours. What do you think?
  • We can just pretend that it never happened. We don’t ever have to talk about it again. I don’t want anything to get in the way of Philly. You’re all that matters to me.
  • Aimee: Do you live around here, Sutter?
    Sutter: How do you know my name?
    Aimee: We go to the same school. You wouldn’t know who I am.
  • Aimee: I don’t really have any stories.
    Sutter: What do you mean? Everyone’s got a story.
    Aimee: Not me, I guess.
    Sutter: All right. So, I don’t know. What’s your thing?
    Aimee: My thing?
    Sutter: Yeah. You know. Everybody’s got a thing. Larry Rourke? Stoner. Greg Jacoby is the rich kid. What’s your thing?
    Aimee: I’d like to think that there’s more to a person that just one thing. You know?
  • Aimee: I got into college today, but there’s no way that my mom will let me go, so.
    Sutter: You got into college today? That’s awesome!
    Aimee: Yeah. Thank you.
    Sutter: Congratulations.
    Aimee: In Philadelphia. Which is really cool, ’cause that’s where my sister lives, but–
    Sutter: I don’t know what to say. Dude, that’s awesome. Congratulations. Very cool.
    Aimee: It doesn’t matter. It’s not that big of a deal. And there’s no way that I’ll go, so–
    Sutter: What are you talking about?
    Aimee: Well, I mean, my mom. I have to help my mom with the route.
    Sutter: What does your mom have to do with this? The paper route?
    Aimee: Yes. She’s alone–
    Sutter: Your mom is a grown woman. She can take care of the paper route herself. You are definitely going to Philly. A hundred percent you’re going to Philly.
    Aimee: Yeah, no.
    Sutter: Yeah, you are. There’s no “buts” about it. Don’t you understand? You are this incredibly gifted, genius person and you got all these people around you telling you that you can’t do sh*t. And that’s gotta stop. You need to start standing up for yourself.
    Aimee: How?
    Sutter: How? I’ll teach you.
  • Aimee: I don’t have an ex-boyfriend.
    Sutter: What?
    Aimee: Yeah.
    Sutter: You’re 17 years old. You don’t have an ex-boyfriend? Really? That’s shocking.
    Aimee: No. Guys don’t look at me like that.
    Sutter: Absolutely, guys look at you like that. I just saw two guys look at you like that. Erik Wolff and Cody Dennis were 100% hitting on you.
    Aimee: No, we were just talking.
    Sutter: A hundred percent.
    Aimee: There was absolutely no way–
    Sutter: Yes, they were. Why don’t you think they were hitting on you?
    Aimee: Because I’m just… They weren’t.
    Sutter: Because you’re what? Aimee, you’re absolutely beautiful.
    Aimee: Oh, my God. No!
  • Sutter: Wow. You guys sure are a breath of fresh air.
    Holly: Thank you, Sutter.
    Sutter: It’s rare to see such a happy couple nowadays. I feel like everyone’s getting divorced.
    Holly: Well, that’s not true.
    Sutter: Isn’t it? Our parents. Aimee’s parents. Most of my friends’ parents.
    Joe: Kid’s got a point.
    Holly: Thank you, Joe.
    Aimee: Mine didn’t.
    Sutter: I thought you said your parents were divorced?
    Aimee: No.
    Holly: There you go, Sutter. See? Not everything is doomed.
    Aimee: My dad died.
    Sutter: What?
    Holly: I am so sorry.
    Aimee: No. It’s okay. It’s not your fault.
    Holly: What happened?
    Aimee: He was a really great guy. He just kind of had a slight problem with painkillers mostly. Yeah. Kinda crazy. He tried to stop a bunch of times. But my sister came home one day and he was just lying on the kitchen floor, and she had to close his eyes and everything. It was pretty… intense. Sorry. That was… really dark.
  • Aimee: Sorry I don’t know how to dance like Cassidy.
    Sutter: Hey, you dance like Aimee. That’s perfect.
  • Aimee: I did it.
    Sutter: What?
    Aimee: Talked to my mom. I walked in and I said, “It’s my life, and I’m not gonna let you stand in the way of it.”
    Sutter: How’d that go?
    Aimee: It was pretty ugly at first. Said all these things and tried to guilt me into staying, but I just said, “Look, if I can afford it, then I’m leaving and there’s really not anything you can do about it.”
    Sutter: That’s awesome. I’m proud of you.
    Aimee: Thank you. I’m proud of me. It wasn’t that bad. You’ll see.
    Sutter: What?
    Aimee: When you do it.
    Sutter: What are you talking about?
    Aimee: Sutter! We had a deal.
    Sutter: Yeah. I don’t know.
    Aimee: What? You can totally do it. Trust me.
    Sutter: Different.
    Aimee: No. Okay, look. Repeat after me. Say, “I want to call my dad, Mom. I want to motherf*cking call him.”
  • Aimee: I love you. Did you hear me?
    Sutter: Yeah.
    Aimee: Sutter, I love you.
    Sutter: No, you don’t.
    Aimee: Yes, I do.
    Sutter: No, you don’t. You’re wrong.
    Aimee: Sutter, I’m not wrong.
    Sutter: You don’t love me.
    Aimee: Yes, I do!
    Sutter: You’re wrong. You don’t love me. You’re just drunk and you’re grateful that somebody came along and showed interest in you.
    Aimee: Okay, stop. Stop. Do not try and mess this up.
  • Quoting: Shailene Woodley

    on her character: I saw Aimee as somebody who was strong and ambitious, with lots of things that she wanted to do in life but that maybe she didn’t have the confidence to do. I knew she wasn’t a wallflower or a nerd and I fought really hard to make sure you could see that she was somebody who had almost chosen not to have friends. She had chosen who she was. I felt like there was something interesting about her decisions being so specific. It makes her realistic and relatable, and stereotypes never are. We’re all more than one thing, and luckily the director was on the same page as far as what I envisioned Aimee to be.

    on relating to Aimee: I was similar to Aimee in a way. I did sort of lose myself for a little while in high school by being in a relationship with somebody. But she’s very introverted and she keeps her thoughts to herself, and I’m definitely not and (I’m) loud.

    on not wearing make-up for the role: It was my decision. For me, it was kind of like, if I have to wear makeup I don’t want to do it. I didn’t see Aimee as a girl who valued vanity. I saw her more as a girl who thought, “Maybe when I go to college I’ll put some makeup on and care then, because now I don’t give a sh*t.” Like, why would I get up an extra 20 or 30 minutes to put a face on that doesn’t represent who I am? That’s kind of how I was in the later years of high school. I wanted to channel that she represented how most girls go to school. In the prom scene, I did have some makeup on but that was it. And I cannot tell you how nice it was. I never want to wear makeup in any film. There was no hairspray. No gel. No foundation. It kind of took out the materialistic side of this industry that has infiltrated it.

    on the changes from the book to screen: In the book, Aimee is a nerd, a geek, mousy, in a corner with her head down. That was one of the biggest things I discussed when I sat down with James (Ponsoldt). I really wanted to do this movie but said, “If you want this girl to be written the way she is now, I’m not the choice. Because I don’t see her as a nerd. I see her as a really strong, independent, beautiful young woman who is wise beyond her years.” That’s not to mean that she is not naive or innocent. Luckily, James completely agreed with me.

    on her first on-screen love scenes: When I sat down with James before I even agreed to do the movie, I asked him about that scene and he said, “I want to make that scene so beautiful and so romantic and so lovely, and I want it to be so real, that when people leave the movie I want them to say: ‘I’ve never seen a sex scene with teenagers that real in my entire life.’” Him saying that as well as many other things is what convinced me to do the film. But it was so beautifully done. I love the fact that we were able to giggle. And I love the fact that we were able to laugh at ourselves and just have these sweet moments and painful moments. When I look at it, I don’t see myself having sex. I see this character. It makes me smile because I think even if that wasn’t everyone’s experience, there’s something so charming and so lovely about being in that sacred space together at such a young age. […] It was such a safe, comfortable environment and I am so grateful that it was with Miles, because he was such a gentleman and made me feel very comfortable and nurtured. And I think I made him feel very comfortable and nurtured. It was really sweet. We wanted it to just feel natural. Just the way that it was filmed, with just James and a camera, and the way it was lit, it was really easy to forget that anyone was in the room aside from Miles and I.

    on the film’s themes: Alcohol is a big part of high school. I went through my little phase. I don’t know one high schooler that doesn’t. This movie isn’t about alcoholism. If any other director had taken it on, I think it maybe would have been a bigger part of it. I think it explores more the emotional turmoil that teenagers go through and the trials and tribulations of trying to figure out who you are. Miles’ character is not drinking, clearly, because he’s an alcoholic. He’s drinking because he doesn’t really know any other way to have fun and to enjoy life. That can be a budding addiction, but I think at this point it’s really just exploring the truth of what it’s like to be in high school and what you do in high school. It doesn’t glamorize the drinking.

    on her attraction to the role: My favorite movies are movies that I go in and I leave deeply affected. Whether I laugh really hard or whether I cry really hard, I just want to feel really affected in that moment. I went on an emotional rollercoaster reading the script.

    on working with co-star Miles Teller: We met right before we began filming. We ate lunch together and then talked for about two or three hours and then went straight to Georgia. We just naturally became friends and he became my brother for life. I want to do a movie a year with him.

    on working with director James Ponsoldt: I think he’s going to be a director that transcends the times. He gets to know you so well as a person that he really doesn’t need to give you much direction. He can point out when you’re being authentic and truthful, and when you’re being disingenuous. He also recognizes that a film isn’t just one person, it’s a collaborative effort. He made sure that we as actors felt like we were establishing our characters together, which really created a beautiful marriage of people’s creative ideas.

    Quoting: Cast and Crew

    Director James Ponsoldt: There’s certain things you cannot fabricate. “They have a real beautiful energy between them (Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller). I tried to put as much of them into their roles since they are both so honest. […] I had seen Shailene in The Descendants play George Clooney’s daughter, and thought she was amazing. She was the real revelation of that movie. I knew every other actor in it, but I remember seeing this movie, and my first impression was, “This kid’s a brat! This kid’s kind of obnoxious, and I hope I don’t have to spend two hours with her.” That was my first thought! But by the end of the film, I realized, “Oh, this is a character who’s in pain, and this is a transformative, really moving, mature performance.” And I think what I reacted to negatively is that I saw myself in her, or saw myself at that age. And she just reminded me of a young Debra Winger, Sissy Spacek, Barbara Hersey—fiercely intelligent, no vanity whatsoever, really emotionally complicated performance. I couldn’t remember seeing a performance from any other young actor that moved me so much.

    Co-star Miles Teller: As actors, Shailene and I match up well together because we have similar styles in that we do everything very honestly. We’re not very showy actors, and I think our technique is just to be very present. So if she does something very different in the scene, I’m going to respond to that and vice versa, which is nice, because you don’t have to force somebody to come along with you. It’s just very natural.

    Critical Response

    Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:

    Ordinary in some ways and extraordinary in others, The Spectacular Now benefits from an exceptional feel for its main characters on the parts of the director and lead actors. Looking plain, even homely and singularly unadorned, Woodley is worlds away from the svelte hottie she portrayed two years ago in The Descendents but again is entirely terrific.

    Claudia Puig, USA Today:

    Teller and Woodley’s chemistry is strikingly convincing. With her guileless smile, Woodley is wondrously natural, perhaps even better than in her superb performance in The Descendants.

    Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times:

    Woodley, whose breakout came in 2011 as the rebellious teenage daughter holding her own opposite George Clooney in The Descendants, shows a very different — diffident — side in Aimee. The actress finds the right balance between the insecurities and pragmatism of a kid who knows whatever success comes will be of her own making. Woodley radiates a gentle warmth as Aimee that is simply magnetic on-screen.

    David Edelstein, New York Magazine:

    Woodley played George Clooney’s eldest daughter in The Descendants, but I didn’t recognize her here. Her Aimee is so modest and attentive (and lovely and forgiving) that she seems too good to be true. But Aimee’s longing for someone to protect her—and free her from a domineering mother—is in Woodley’s hands too true to be good. She’s frighteningly vulnerable.

    Rob Nelson, Variety:

    Ponsoldt, with the help of Jess Hall’s attentive cinematography, does an excellent job of letting the drama play out on the imperfect faces of his two young leads, both of whom embody a delicate combination of fearlessness and vulnerability. Woodley thoroughly fulfills the promise of her smaller role as the teenage daughter in The Descendants, locating the precise point at which Aimee’s infatuation with Sutter turns to self-protection.

    Ed Gibbs, The Guardian:

    Ponsoldt elicits remarkably strong performances from his two young leads, who display a depth of feeling that’s breathtaking in its simplicity and honest. There’s an inherent chemistry here that’s both disarming and refreshing (their love scene is astonishingly tender). Woodley, in only her second feature role after Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, delivers a naivety so gentle, it could at any moment be shattered. Which at one point, it almost is.

    Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist:

    Marked by long takes — one steady-cam shot is seven minutes long — Ponsoldt puts the emphasis on his actors and considering how good his cast is, it’s a smart move. Woodley is terrific and painfully genuine.

    Jeremy Mathews, Paste Magazine:

    If The Descendants didn’t already prove Woodley is a force to be reckoned with, The Spectacular Now certainly does. Woodley embodies young love’s innocence, hope and fragility. She dominates every frame she’s in with sweet hesitations and a nervous smile.

    Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly:

    Shailene Woodley totally nails the spirit of those smart, pretty, recessive high school girls who have so much going for them but don’t know it yet.

    Awards and Nominations

    Below is a list of all accolades Shailene has received for her role in the film.

    NOMINATED: Alliance of Women Film Journalists – Best Breakthrough Performance
    NOMINATED: Chlotrudis Awards – Best Actress
    NOMINATED: Film Independent Spirit Awards – Best Female Lead
    NOMINATED: Georgia Film Critics Association – Best Ensemble
    NOMINATED: Gotham Awards – Best Actress

    WON: San Diego Film Critics Society Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    WON: Sundance Film Festival – Special Jury Prize (shared with Miles Teller – For two young actors who showed rare honesty, naturalism and transparency and whose performances brought up the best in each other.)