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.
Sutter: How do you know my name?
Aimee: We go to the same school. You wouldn’t know who I am.
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?
Sutter: You got into college today? That’s awesome!
Aimee: Yeah. Thank you.
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.
Sutter: How? I’ll teach you.
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!
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?
Holly: There you go, Sutter. See? Not everything is doomed.
Aimee: My dad died.
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.
Sutter: Hey, you dance like Aimee. That’s perfect.
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.
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.
Aimee: No. Okay, look. Repeat after me. Say, “I want to call my dad, Mom. I want to motherf*cking call him.”
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.
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.)