Onslaught of Book to Movie: Review of “The Spectacular Now”

"The Spectacular Now" by Tim Tharp (2008) Photo Source

“The Spectacular Now” by Tim Tharp (2008) Photo Source

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.

“The Spectacular Now” Starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller (yes, they were both in “Divergent” as well) (2013) Secondary Photo Source

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.


Onslaught of Book to Movie: Movie Review of “Divergent”

2014 is the year of YA novel to movie adaptations. As mentioned in a previous post, we have plenty coming out of the gate with enough dystopian angst to go around. I won’t bother to recount the novels (because reading is fundamental!) and also because my posts would be endless if I summed up every YA novel before reviewing its corresponding film.


(Movie Poster; Image Courtesy of Wikipedia)


(Book; Image Courtesy of Amazon.com)

Divergent came out on Friday, March 21, 2014. It stars Shailene Woodley, queen of the “YA novel to movie” right now. Following her stunning performance in the Oscar-nominated The Descendants with George Clooney, she has also starred in the recent Spectacular Now and will be playing the female lead in the another YA novel to movie adaptation The Fault in Our Stars set to premiere in June of this year. But this review is not to remark on Ms. Woodley’s performance.

Yes, she is the star, but when the discussing the movie with a fellow avid YA novel reader, we discovered that there was a lot of focus on Ms. Woodley’s character, Beatrice “Tris” Prior. Maybe too much?

This is a struggle with every book to movie adaptation. So many relationships in the pages, but on the screen, there is are so many constraints on time. In Divergent (2014), when compared to the novel, there are a lot of *spoiler alert* deaths. They weren’t totally unexpected but unlike the book, the viewers aren’t really connected with the deceased. Of the five scenes, Tris has with her mother (Ashley Judd), one is her death. We see even less with her father before he too dies.

Two more deaths I am finding it hard to care about are those of Candor-turned-almost-Dauntless Al, and Erudite-turned-Dauntless-turned-dead Will. Al, in both the book and novel, *spoiler alert* commits suicide after attempting to kill Tris and growing restless about his impending rejection from Dauntless. Will is the intelligent soul that is somehow able to win over the too honest Christina before a mind-control serum works its way into his brain. Under the spell, he is about to kill both Tris and her mother before Tris shoots him.

In the book, we sense Al’s desperation. He’s a horrible fighter, the other initiates from Candor are doing quite well, and now suddenly, Tris, who was at the bottom of the bracket, is now at the top. He goes along with the plan to kill Tris, then tear-eyed, apologizes for it before Tris (rightfully mad) promises to kill him the next time he comes near her. In the movie, we don’t we see this. We meet Al, hear him ask Tris for tips, see him try to push her over the edge, he apologizes, and the next shot of him is his dead body. (It actually takes a while to realize the body is Al.) The same occurs with Will. We have a few scenes of him spouting out facts before a bullet is shot at him.

The lack of connection is not just apparent in deaths. The relationship between Tris and Four is built on weak foundation in the movie. In the book, Tris has several outings with Four’s friends and small conversations with Four as well as a passage of a Four in a drunken state:

“I’d ask you hang out with us, but you’re not supposed to see me this way.”
I am tempted to ask him why he wants to hang out with him, but I suspect the answer has something to do with the bottle in his hand.
“What way?” I ask. “Drunk?
“Yeah…well, no.” His voice softens. “Real, I guess.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t.”
“Nice of you.” He puts his lips next to my ear and says, “You look good, Tris.”
His words surprise me,and my heart leaps. I wish it didn’t, because judging by the way his eyes slide over mine, he has no idea what he’s saying. I laugh. “Do me a favor and stay away from the chasm, okay?”
“Of course.” He winks at me. (Can’t remember the page, but here’s its source)

In the movie, Four seems to go from being an uptight instructor and giving Tris small tips to showing her his fears to kissing her outright. Then, on-screen, after the small make-out session, Tris has the nerve to say, “I just don’t want to move too fast.” Too late, missy!

All in all, the movie wasn’t bad. I could go on and on about downplayed meanings of Tris’s tattoos, how movie Peter (Miles Teller) is much nicer than book Peter, and the alteration of certain plot points (Capture the Flag, anyone?) but I feel the need to point out good parts of the film as well.

It is quite refreshing to see such a well-casted group of people on-screen. Even though he didn’t much screen-time, Ansel Elgort was great was Tris’s older brother Caleb (which means his acting skills will be put to the test when he plays Woodley’s boyfriend in The Fault in Our Stars and then Tris’s brother again in the Divergent sequel). This probably goes without saying but Kate Winslet was delightfully evil, annoying, and brilliant as Erudite leader Jeanine.

I feel neutral about this movie. It was decent, even if you didn’t read the book. I’d give it three stars out of five, and advise parents to get a babysitter and depressed teens to sit it out. It’s a great movie, but  its violence (complete with triggers and allusions to abuse) may be sensitive to some viewers.