Tried and true, I read the book version of The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (2008)before watching its movie counterpart. Unlike most of the books I review, I had high hopes for the movie version to be different for one simple reason: I absolutely detested the book.
If you read last week’s Monty’s Mayhem, my sentiment should come as no surprise. As an English major, I am often confronted with the question–“Did you really hate the book or was it the narrator?” For Invisible Man (1952), it was the narrator. For The Spectacular Now (2008), it was a bit of both. If you’ve actually read it (or are feeling gutsy enough to peruse a copy), you’ll find that the narrator, Sutter Keely, is not too much of a bad guy. He enjoys a good time, likes to tell stories and make people laugh, and he hates math. Seems like a typical, non-threatening teenager, right?
Well, what bugged me the most about Sutter is that he is drunk. All. the. time. He drinks first thing in the morning, he drinks before going to work and school and his sister’s fancy dinner party, and he drinks behind the wheel. Let’s ignore the fact that he is underage and try to assume that his boss, classmates, and family actually like the “buzzed” Sutter. Let’s, for the sake of argument, try.
Despite all of that, he is still driving under the influence and with the influence. Not only is this incredibly irresponsible in terms of his own health (he adamantly denies that he is an alcoholic), but also dangerously reckless with the lives of anyone near him or riding with him. I suppose that is where my main problem with Sutter stems from.
I can handle him being so unmotivated that he flunks math and misses graduation. I can handle him being so lost that he lies about where his father is yet jumps at the chance to see him. I can even handle (albeit barely) him messing with Amy, when it’s obvious her feelings overpower his (and don’t even get me started on her). I can handle what he inflicts on himself and on those who choose to be around him, but subjecting strangers to the aftermath of your actions is sickening.
If you’re wondering how the movie (2013) differs, I make two time-saving suggestions to you. You can read the book, then skip the first eighty-six minutes of the movie and be caught up. The other option is to watch the movie all the way through (this way you can avoid reading the book) and realize the main difference between the movie and book occur after the eighty-six minute mark. Obviously, there are some major differences throughout the course of the film, such as
- Sutter’s stepfather does not exist
- The friendship between Ray and Sutter is less pronounced
- Amy’s sister is located in Philadelphia instead of New Mexico
- Sutter and Amy don’t go to the prom after-party
However, for the most part, the book and movie coincide very closely. Usually in book-to-movie adaptations, this is a good thing.
I was just really hoping the screenplay would pull a Percy Jackson and not be like the book at all.
So what happens after the eighty-six minute mark? Unlike Book Sutter, Movie Sutter realizes the error of his ways. He works to get his well-to-do sister and mother reunited. Instead of just leaving Amy high and dry in Philadelphia alone (after he promised to go with her then bailed “for her own good”), Sutter goes there to surprise her and the film ends with Amy looking surprised but pleased. Considering that Sutter is the reason Amy became a heavy vodka drinker, had to get a cast on her arm (after she got clipped by a car on highway after he told her to get out of his car), and he abandoned her, I’m not sure if this ending is much of an improvement (for Amy at least).
Of course, almost anything is an improvement over Book Sutter going to get drunk, drive in swerves, fade into oblivion, and calling his life “spectacular.” Please, oh goodness, do not read this book and don’t see the movie. If you feel differently, please defend your position in the comments. I’m very curious to read your argument.