“The Spectacular Now,” an indie film starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, was released in the fall of 2013. It is a dark “coming of age” story that focuses on the romantic relationship between the two main characters, Aimee and Sutter, who are both high school seniors. This movie had a baffling number of missteps both as a whole and particularly related to feminism and it’s representation of women.
*Warning: spoilers ahead
It is evident from the get-go that Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) is portraying the stereotypical, painfully overdone innocent white girl trope that a worrisomely large number of romantic movies contain. She is naïve and pure, put on a pedestal as this ideal for young women, because it is significantly more appealing to men to find this refreshing, beautiful, untouched girl and learn to love her, rather than continually sticking with the cheap, sexually available girls of their past. We see this in a plethora of other films, such as A Walk to Remember and Endless Love. Aimee is relentlessly brutal in sticking to this character (or caricature) by relying on Sutter to lend her some semblance of self-worth on multiple occasions. She repeatedly gives the act of “who, me?” in disbelief that someone (a dude) like Sutter could ever be interested in a girl like her. It remains painful throughout the whole film. Frequently, time is spent focusing on her “inability to see herself and her beauty clearly” and the only way the audience is shown her attractiveness is through the eyes of Sutter and his male best friend. Way to clearly spell out the male gaze for us!
Another of the HUGE problems I have with “The Spectacular Now” is the multiple times Sutter puts Aimee’s life in serious, very real danger and the fact that she continually brushes it off like it’s nothing. There is also one intense scene where Aimee tells Sutter she loves him and he explodes and yells at her to get out of his car in the middle of a highway, where she is then hit by another car. In the consecutive scene (she suffered from a broken arm) she asks if he wants to talk about it. He responds with no, and she quickly assures him that they can pretend it never happened. It reminds me eerily of symptoms of a dangerous and abusive intimate relationship, and it is definitely not the kind of behavior we should be endorsing in young relationships.
Along with all these serious feminist issues, the movie has an amazing number of other concerns as well. For one, Sutter is a raging alcoholic at the age of eighteen, which is never fully resolved or even addressed. He drives drunk constantly, never suffering any sort of consequences for his reckless actions. There are exactly two people of color in this movie, Sutter’s history teacher and his ex-girlfriends new boyfriend, so diversity isn’t exactly a strong suit. Aimee has a big grand idea of what her future (heterosexual) marriage is going to look like, although to be fair she mentions her desire to work for NASA, which is pretty cool. The single sex scene is effectively awkward, but I’m not sure if that was intentional or just uncomfortable acting and writing to fit in with the rest of this mostly uncomfortable movie. It was a celebratory moment when Aimee pulled out her own condom for the couple to use, and I appreciate that they took the time to put it on and emphasize safe sex. Both Aimee and Sutter live with single mothers, who are made out to be cold, insensitive, uncaring, inefficient parents throughout the 95 minutes. I, for one, am sick of seeing pushy, presumptuous, assertive, territorial males portrayed as some sort of ideal, which are exactly the traits that Sutter embodies. My main thought after finishing “The Spectacular Now” is yikes. I’m gonna have to slap a sorry two stars on this one. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!