“The Spectacular Now” is that rare American coming-of-age story that seems to be happening to real people. As their last year of high school comes to an end, charming, Seagrams-swilling Sutter Keely hooks up with loner-and-likes-it-that-way Aimee Finecky. What results is a uniquely clear-eyed take on how young people find and lose themselves while stumbling toward adulthood.
Directed by James Ponsoldt (“Smashed,” the upcoming “Rodham”) and adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel by “500 Days of Summer” writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the movie earned its young stars, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Teller, 26, is a veteran of dopey teen party films “Project X” and “21 and Over.” Simi Valley High School alum Woodley, 21, has been modeling and acting since the age of four, and is best known as the star of ABC Family series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and as George Clooney’s impudent daughter in “The Descendants.”
The two actors, who have already worked together again on the upcoming Young Adult adaptation “Divergent,” displayed an easy rapport as they talked about their current projects, hoped for future collaborations and even sang a little.
I liked how, for the longest time, this movie just kind of observed Sutter, Aimee and the rest of the kids without passing judgment on any of them.
MILES: I thought it was a pretty honest interpretation of rural American teens. I’m from Florida, I grew up in a 7,000-person town, and we used to steal my buddy’s grandpa’s Old Milwaukee on, like, Tuesday, put it in the woods and drink it on Friday. I was 13, 14 when that was happening. I loved that they let the audience decide. It’s not a morality lesson. Some people are like “Oh, Sutter makes drinking look so cool,” and I’m like, “Does he?” I don’t think that he really has his stuff together in this movie. If anything, I think it shows the dangers of drinking before you’ve really developed yourself fully.
SHAILENE: It’s not a movie that focuses on stereotypes. It’s so realistic. I knew someone like Sutter in my high school – I dated a Sutter in high school. Every day, I told the producers and director that casting Miles was the most genius thing that they could have done.
MILES: I told them that, too!
SHAILENE: I think that there is a version of this movie where Sutter is your stereotypical cool guy with his suave way and outlook on life, and Amy is your really nerdy, sort of reclusive girl. We consciously made an effort to fight against those stereotypes and make them as realistic as possible. That’s what’s interesting, and there are no coming-of-age movies nowadays that are interesting to watch because they’re so unrealistic. Everyone has loads of makeup on, everybody’s dressed like they just shopped at Urban Outfitters or some trendy, hip shop.
The realism also comes from how you played it. Which begs the question, were you anything like your characters growing up?
SHAILENE: 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. In high school, I was extremely social. I threw pep rallies and I was in drama and I was on the board of choir.
MILES: I can totally see you at a pep rally!
SHAILENE: I ran those pep rallies! I was like “Yeah, go team! I have no experience, but I’m doing it anyway!”
MILES: Me and Sutter were pretty similar in that I did the life-of-the-party kind of thing. I had a lot of different groups of friends in high school. Me and my buddies were always throwing parties, but I graduated with honors. I always had a drive, and it pissed my buddies off. They were like, “Dude, you were at the same party I was at. How are you getting these grades?”
You two don’t just have convincing chemistry on screen; you seem to get along pretty well, too.
SHAILENE: I want to work with Miles on every movie. I want to do every different character relationship with Miles.
MILES: Seriously, we want to do a musical together. And I’ll have a cockney accent.
SHAILENE: Ay’ll ’ave a cockney accent!
MILES: “Consida yerself . . . “
SHAILENE: “At ‘ome!”
Well, one day. In the meantime, y’all just did it again for “Divergent,” which everyone is expecting to be the next big YA, dystopian future thing.
SHAILENE: It’s very new for both of us. And even though we have a really large ensemble cast, I feel so fortunate to have Miles on board because it’s kind of like that comfort zone at the end of the day when there’s so much in the air around you, but you see one solid rock that you know that you can lean on.
MILES: I wasn’t in it that much, but just to realize how big a movie it is, the budget is really up there. The production values are through the roof. When she jumps off a train, the sound reverberates through your whole body.
SHAILENE: We have a pretty intense fight scene in it. He beats the crap out of me.
Was that better than your love scene in “Spectacular Now?”
SHAILENE: Equally as good!
Sorry to ask, Shailene, but what happened with you and the next Spider-Man movie? You were cast as Spidey’s girlfriend Mary Jane, but now you’re not?
SHAILENE: Mary Jane’s not in this Spider-Man. I filmed four scenes, I worked three days. Looking back on it now, I think it’s really smart on Sony and the director’s part to take MJ out because they’re introducing so many vital characters and she’s such an important one to the comics.
Miles, what’s next for you?
MILES: I made about five films last year, about three weeks off between each one. “Are We Officially Dating” should come out in January, and I did a thing called “Two Night Stand.” They’re both romantic comedies. And then there’s this movie called “Get a Job” in which Bryan Cranston plays my dad.
Any fond memories of Simi Valley, Shailene?
SHAILENE: Growing up in Simi was great. My entire family lives there, so it was nice to have everyone around all the time and growing up in the mountains.