The Spectacular Now

Shailene as: Aimee Finecky
Genre: Drama | Comedy | Romance
Director: James Ponsoldt
Other Cast: Miles Teller, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Release Date: August 2, 2013 (US, Limited Release)
Production Budget: $2.5m
Total Worldwide Gross: $6.85m
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, a high school senior and effortless charmer, and of how he unexpectedly falls in love with “the good girl” Aimee Finecky. 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.

Facts and Trivia

Adapted from the novel of the same name by American novelist Tim Tharp.

Marc Webb was originally attached to direct the film.

Nicholas Hoult was originally considered for the role of Sutter Keely.

During the early stages of pre-production, Saoirse Ronan was considered and offered the role of Aimee.

Filming took place in Athens, Georgia – director James Ponsoldt’s hometown.

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 Amy if she has any money, and then the two of them trying to put together enough cash to pay was all improvised by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. Director James Ponsoldt thought it was such a sad moment that he kept it in the movie.

At one point during pre-production, the script began to change. Shailene Woodley was worried that the new rewrites would make the story less honest, and at one point even called Miles Teller to tell him that she was thinking of dropping out. Teller managed to convince her to stay on the movie, and the rewrites never happened.

Production Info

Filming began in late July 2012 in Athens, Georgia. Although the novel originally takes place in Oklahoma, director James Ponsoldt said that after reading the script, he was reminded of his hometown and after signing on to direct, he pushed producers to set and film the movie in Athens, GA. In order to create a more authentic feel, Ponsoldt shot with widescreen 35mm film. Production ran until the end of August.

Character Quotes

Further information not yet available.

Quoting: Shailene Woodley

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 character

I wouldn’t say that Aimee’s a loner. I think that she’s somebody who chooses not to have a lot of friends because she just doesn’t have anything in common with a lot of high school kids. She’s got an old soul, and she’s incredibly wise and intelligent, and is an introvert.
– On her character

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.
– On filming her first on-screen sex scene

You watch it and it’s slightly voyeuristic and slightly uncomfortable. At the same time it’s sort of an adorable, intimate scene. It’s sweet and it makes you feel warm. I love it. I love it.
– On watching her first on-screen sex scene

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. Sutter 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 the theme of teenage drinking

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 her attraction to the script

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.
– On working with Director James Ponsoldt

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 Miles Teller

Quoting: Cast and Crew

There’s certain things you cannot fabricate. They [Shailene and Miles Teller] have a real beautiful energy between them. I tried to put as much of them into their roles since they are both so honest.
– Director James Ponsoldt

Shailene I had seen 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.
– Director James Ponsoldt

Critical Response

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.
– Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

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.
– Claudia Puig, USA Today

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.
– Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

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.
– David Edelstein, New York Magazine

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.
– Rob Nelson, Variety

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.
– Ed Gibbs, The Guardian

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.
– Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

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.
– Jeremy Mathews, Paste Magazine

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.
– Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

Awards and Nominations

Below is a list of all award wins and nominations Shailene received for her work in the film.

WON: San Diego Film Critics Society – Best Supporting Actress
WON: Sundance Film Festival – Special Jury Award for Acting

NOMINATED: Alliance of Women Film Journalists – Best Breakthrough Performance
NOMINATED: Gotham Awards – Best Actress
NOMINATED: Independent Spirit Awards – Best Female Lead
NOMINATED: Indiana Film Journalists Association – Best Actress
NOMINATED: San Diego Film Critics Society – Best Actress