Major Spoilers throughout.
"Bad boy" meets "good girl" and they rub their traits off on each other, encouraging each other to be simultaneously better and worse, in this realistic, unapologetic look at life and love through the eyes of a high school senior.
Said senior is Sutter Keeley -- on the surface, your average southern, easy goin', sweet talkin', foul-mouthed, foul-minded dude. The kind that has walked every southern high school hallway, plus some. A number have crossed my path. They're hard to miss. He is played realistically, to absolute perfection by Miles Teller. He lives with his mom. He's still mad about his parent's divorce. He's had a long string of serious-but-not-really relationships, the latest of which just dumped him. The only thing he really takes seriously is his partying, and that leaves him waking up at 6:00 AM, on a stranger's front lawn, hungover and wondering where his car might be.
|Yet you never dislike him for even a second. The film rides on this character's journey alone.|
Actually, someone wakes him up. Literally, from his nap in the grass, and, eventually, figuratively too. Her name is Aimee (played by Shailene Woodley). She goes to the same school as Sutter, but he never noticed her, because she's not his usual type -- she's sweet, reserved, not too confident, and unaware of her beauty. It doesn't take Sutter long to see her good qualities, and he enjoys hanging out with her, but is more interested in her potential to make his ex jealous than anything else -- for while that is. Then he suddenly notices himself beginning to change... for the good.
Of course that's not before Aimee takes the plunge into the world of teen partying, drinking and... loose morals. I wonder though, if Aimee really was the "good girl" we're supposed to believe she was from the beginning. It's clear from the moment they meet that she is interested in him, and is eager to pursue their relationship (in the furthest, shallowest way possible), and come over to "his side." She is "good" only in the worldliest sense. She follows rules; he doesn't. That's all that separates them.
The main reason I braved this turbulent film was because of Teller and Woodley and the glowing reviews they received for their performances. And I'll gladly add my voice to the resounding praise: they were real, they were natural; they were spectacular. Their scenes together -- especially the ones made up of one long take -- are an absolute pleasure to see, just because of the natural ease and grace they possess, making the scene feel more like real-life than I've ever seen accomplished in a film like this. This should also probably be credited to the director, (James Ponsoldt) who undoubtedly encouraged them to act on their impulses and improvise off into rabbit trails if the moment called for it, as long as they reverted back to the script eventually. In this way the pair's relationship was very real, but, I never found it personally, emotionally compelling.
|They're also the most convincing twenty-somethings-playing-teens I've ever seen.|
What I did find compelling, was Sutter. As good as Woodley is, this movie is all about Sutter, and Teller handled the complexities of the character amazingly. His dilemma over loving Aimee and being afraid that his bad influence is ruining her life is powerful; his issues involving his father, even more so. At first, Sutter's excuse for his bad lifestyle is his dad's absence, something he blames his mom for, believing he was a good man and she kicked him out -- and if she hadn't he would have been raised properly. But then he meets his dad again, (he is played greatly by Kyle Chandler) and realizes with horror that he's nothing like he'd remembered; seeing him was like looking at himself twenty years in the future, and suddenly he has no one to blame for his problems but himself.
Aimee woke Sutter up and told him he was in a hole; meeting his dad again was what made him realize he wanted out; but most importantly, it was his mother who was there to help him with the climb. This part had the least amount of time spent on it, but it was also the most straight-forward, and most untainted positive part of the whole film.
|The movie is marketed as a romance. I found it both less and more than that.|
In my favorite scene, near the end of the film, Sutter's employer -- and closest thing he has to a father figure in his life -- calls him to his office and gives him a choice: promise to stop coming to work loaded, or get fired. And I love Sutter's honesty; they both know that's a promise he couldn't keep, and so he doesn't make it. They shake hands, and he starts to leave, but then his boss adds that if he were Sutter's father, he might give him a warning lecture about the dangers of what he's doing to himself. With a subtle power that defines the character and film alike, Sutter replies to the good-hearted man that if he were his father, he wouldn't have to.
But Sutter is able to overcome the shadow of his father, realizing that it he alone is responsible for his life, and it's never too late to start living it right. At the end of the movie he is maybe not on the best path, but certainly a better one; meandering towards the light at the end of the tunnel -- with a smile on his face that allows us to hope that he just might make it.