Teens Sutter and Aimee (Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley) select a song from a jukebox in a highway bar in "The Spectacular Now." The movie is about the tumultuous life of a high school senior whose drinking habits seriously affect his relationships.

A24 Films/courtesy

Teens Sutter and Aimee (Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley) select a song from a jukebox in a highway bar in "The Spectacular Now." The movie is about the tumultuous life of a high school senior whose drinking habits seriously affect his relationships.

The Bock’s Office: ‘Spectacular Now’ a meaningful teen drama

— It’s a harsh truth, but at high school and college bacchanals across the country, kegs, bottles and plastic cups are a common sight every weekend. And, although they might not let on, there are a few tears involved whenever someone starts to knock back a drink.

If you go

“The Spectacular Now,” rated R

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

Running time: 100 minutes

Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

As “The Spectacular Now” shows us, sometimes trying to have fun really isn’t all that fun.

High school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) always has been the life of the party, and he refuses to let the good times end even when his girlfriend (Brie Larson) dumps him. Drinking even more than usual and showing no concern for the repercussions of his actions, the raucous young man looks headed for destruction.

That is until he wakes up on the front lawn of classmate Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), who’s unlike anyone Sutter has ever met. She’s sweet, ambitious, a good listener and seems to genuinely like him even with his many glaring faults.

The two become fast friends and eventually begin dating, but he can’t help but feel that although she’s helping him become a better person, he’s only providing a negative influence, and she’d be better off without him.

Only Teller can say for sure if he prefers acting in movies about kids with a hedonistic slant, with “Project X,” “21 & Over” and the remake of “Footloose” among those the rising star has appeared in within the past few years. He may be in danger of being typecast, but this film will at least be the one that proves he’s as skilled dramatically as he is being the drunken goof.

It’s sad, but Sutter’s entire personality revolves around alcohol and serves as a magic elixir for everyone around him — he can make you feel relaxed and great about yourself at first, but it isn’t long before this effect turns toxic and on comes the shame and self-hatred. Even sadder, his mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh), his sister (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), his boss (Bob Odenkirk) and every supposedly responsible adult in his life either fail to notice his habits or simply refuse to confront him about it.

Kids will be kids, but should an 18-year-old really be so seasoned in drinking that he already owns a flask?

Woodley’s experience has mostly come from playing adolescents in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and “The Descendants” who are forced to grow up quickly whether they like it or not. In this instance, watching her as a normal kid with all-too-true tendencies toward falling in with the wrong crowd is both encouraging and heartbreaking.

We’re not talking about someone who abuses her physically or verbally, just a boy whose only advanced standing in school or otherwise is his alcohol tolerance. As the good girl in love with a guy who simply can’t get his act together, she brings to mind every wife or husband who’s willing to blindly forgive their significant other the morning after no matter how much they’ve hurt them.

Whether it’s last year’s “Flight” or going all the way back to “Days of Wine and Roses” and “The Lost Weekend,” movies about problem drinkers are tricky for a filmmaker. Either you glorify liquor and the lushes that can’t tear themselves away from it or you might as well ready your soapbox for a speech on the wonders of abstinence.

Just as he did with his look at booze and its impact on a married couple in “Smashed,” director James Ponsoldt shows us a staggeringly realistic look at the issue, in this case a kid with nothing but promise intent to wreck his future before it even starts.

Anytime you see a teenager in a movie with a beer in hand, you might assume they only have it in order to fit in at a party, but few flicks bother to give an understanding of the deeper reasons why teens, or people of any age for that matter, feel the need to give their livers a workout. The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel, reveals the dark side of the young person’s psyche, one of infinite insecurity and self-doubt that can only be silenced by a steady stream poured down the gullet.

Speaking of things that might make you puke if you indulge too much, Ponsoldt realistically captures the roller-coaster ride that is the teen years, going from pure ecstasy in one moment to horrible melancholia the next.

The title of “The Spectacular Now” refers to living in the moment because, as its main character points out, your youth likely will be the best time of your life even if you’re unhappy for most of it. And if someone already has come to that realization before graduating high school, it’s no wonder he prefers inebriation to dealing with his issues.

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

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