The Spectacular Now


Last night I had the chance to see an early screening of "The Spectacular Now" before it comes out this Friday. I don't want to give away too much about the movie (which is based on a book that I have not read), but it was everything a thoughtful, honest, and deeply nostalgic coming-of-age movie should be. What I do want to talk about is the character type that Michael Weber and Scott Neustadter, the writing team behind TSN and "(500) Days of Summer" are so excellent at exploring in film.

Weber and Neustadter write the kind of movies that make me want to write movies and only one other person has had that impact on me: Cameron Crowe. So it's not surprising really that he's one of their biggest influences as well. The three of them have all explored, with one character or another (Sutter Keely, Summer Finn, Penny Lane), the often-heartbreaking impact of future-allergic, perpetual improvisers on the people who care about them. You know the type: they're the "live in the moment," addictively spontaneous boys and girls who are seemingly untouched by pain and who every responsible do-gooder secretly longs to be. So much so that A-types tend to fall in love with these people, hoping they will make them epic by association.

The Sutter/Summer/Penny's of the world have some recurring characteristics. For starters, they tend to have divorced and/or absent parents. The lack of happy, loving adults in their lives is their excuse for however they have ended up and often the catalyst for their somewhat jaded or disillusioned views on life, love, responsibility and commitment. But do you know what kids of divorced parents typically want more than anything in the world? For everyone to just stop fighting or being sad and to be happy instead. They want to make everyone feel good and they want everyone to like them and chances are they've been stuck trying to make people happy since they were kids. Cue the inability to be serious, the laidback, anything goes attitude, the party animal reputation, the careless flirting.

The problem with the type of happiness these latchkey kid-adults are trying to manufacture through reckless behavior, substance abuse and romantic flings, is that it's surface happiness and unsustainable. And that leads me to the second shared characteristic of this type: their short-term hero complex. They believe that if they can "save" someone by inspiring them or by lending them some of their risk-taking mojo, their influence doesn't have to be long-lived and any potential damage is a necessary sacrifice for the greater good. For instance, Penny Lane believes that if she can just inspire one great song, she's done good, no matter if she is complicit in marital infidelity. Sutter Keely wants his friends to enjoy the now, to hookup and live a little, no matter how at risk he puts them by drunk driving them to the party. Summer Finn just wants Tom to be able to enjoy the magic of a whirlwind, no-strings attached romance, no matter if she breaks his heart at the end of it.

Which is another similarity: Because their efforts to "save" these people are misguided and flawed in the first place, almost every well-intentioned "saving" ends in certain disaster, leading to a vicious cycle of self-loathing for our wayward heroes and heroines. They inevitably come to believe that they are bad for the people who get close to them so they become guarded and don't let anyone in. When they do meet someone who they care for, they attempt ever more abbreviated efforts to "save" these people, to get in, impact the person as quickly as possible and get out before they "hurt" them, resulting in more frequent damage, and more validated self-loathing.

Here we arrive at the aftermath. At people who are forever changed because their relationship-on-speed, romantic or platonic, felt so intense and passionate and magical and inspiring and once-in-a-lifetime and now? It has abruptly ended. Sometimes it sucks for everyone involved and for the hero/ine self-loathing turns into self-destructive behavior. But most of the time, it just sucks for the person left behind while Summer Finn grows up and realizes she can't keep doing this. She releases herself from the prison of "Life According to Summer (Based on Her Parent's Divorce)," opening her to the possibility of love and ending with a ring on her finger (um, spoiler alert? sorry!).

Why do I care about all of this? Because I worry that I was a Summer. There was a period of time, mostly in NYC, but also for about 6 months right after I moved to San Diego too, where I wanted to inspire people and save them from growing up or being boring or from dealing with a depressing situation so they could just have fun. I had decided that I was never going to take things seriously and that if they unexpectedly got serious or I lost the ability to make things fun for them, I would disappear so as not to hurt anyone's feelings. All of this was positively delusional. Nobody needed to be saved, especially not by me at my most fumbling. And I did hurt several people's feelings and to this day, have never apologized.

Watching "The Spectacular Now" last night, I wondered, not for the first time, whether I should apologize for my careless attempt at "wayward heroine"-ism during that time. It's not that I'm scared really, it's more that I worry that thinking that my actions actually hurt people is just as self-aggrandizing as thinking way back then that I should try to save them. The flip side is that if I really did hurt them, is it equally self-aggrandizing to think that an apology now will benefit them instead of drudging up old feelings or sounding like I'm promising something better in the future? Because I'm not. The only people I want in my life are the people who are in it, and that is a decision process that I went through over two years ago. So is a note to say, "Hey I'm sorry I was an asshole to you 3 years ago, I was going through stuff and I was a shitty person for a bit and I've since grown up and realized it. Not that I want to open up a dialogue or be friends again. Just wanted to say I'm sorry and best wishes!" really worth it? For them, I mean? I can't help but think not. In fact, if the people who hurt me pulled such a stunt, I would be pissed.

Go see "The Spectacular Now." Expect to laugh, expect to wince, expect to feel the same awkward jumble of nerves and scary anticipation and total confusion that you felt when you were a teenager because this movie does a pretty good job of letting you sit back and relive it. If anything, it's a pitch perfect reminder that spontaneity and "being present" is, as everything else, good in moderation and that never, ever, ever, no matter how ignorant and self-loathing you may be, are you the only person affected by your actions. Keep those two things in mind and the now will be just as spectacular as the future.