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If theatres still did double-features, the pairing of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End and James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now would make for one killer sitting.
The heart wrenching emotional realism of Spectacular Now would duly merit the comic relief from the gut-busting hilarity of The World’s End. Yet the two are surprisingly compatible in theme, plot and character despite their very different styles and genres.
Both investigate the repercussions of their central characters’ life philosophy; The Spectacular Now is always living in the moment (carpe diem), with a complete disregard for the future; The World’s End’s main character is about existing in the present but always living in the past, trying to correct his youth. Both mentalities for both protagonists lead to a singular somber consequence, alcoholism.
In The Spectacular Now, a high school senior, Sutter Keely, inwardly is broken because his girlfriend has sagaciously terminated their relationship because of his inability to rein in the constant drinking. Outwardly he continues to be the life of the party with no time to lament as he must live in the now.
Once again hung-over, lying on the lawn of a random suburban house Sutter is found by Aimee Finecky, an outwardly unrefined girl with magnetic inner beauty. He successfully pursues her. Very quickly his problems become her problems – alcoholism, the result of living only in the moment.
Ponsoldt has crafted a coming of age picture that avoids the genre’s typical trappings. His characters are not one dimensional; they can’t be pinned down to one classification (geek, jock, nerd etc.). “What’s your story?” Sutter asks. Aimee responds, “I like to think there’s more to a person than just one thing.” How rare it is to see high school characters portrayed as real people. They’re not party animals, they don’t have super powers and we don’t empathize with them because they’re good looking or charismatic, but because they are eighteen-year-old human beings.
If you fast-forward twenty years and both assume the breakup of Sutter and Aimee because of his perpetual alcoholism, what would his life look like? He would be Garry King of The World’s End — a man sitting in an AA meeting basking in nostalgic binge drinking stories.
As a youngster Garry and friends attempted Newton Havens’ golden mile — drink one pint of beer from each of twelve pubs in a circuit. In their attempt they were able to make it to the eleventh pub before missing the final one named The World’s End. Four out of the five youth grew up to lead successful professional lives. Garry never did.
He obsessed over the failure to the point where no other activity could bring him satisfaction. Thus, by his mid-forties, Garry rounds up the troops for another shot at reaching The World’s End.
The end product is meticulous genre blending by Wright. His film is a dark comedy, sci-fi extravaganza, dramatic character study mashed together with an end-of-the-world flick and traces of a horror movie. Wright is masterful in not allowing any of these cause distracting tonal shifts seem out of place. They all feel necessary for the film to garner all its suspense and comedy.
The Spectacular Now and The World’s End are mature pictures about penetrating issues that impact their very real characters. They refuse to dumb down their content for simple-minded audiences yet they always remain accessible for the mainstream. Their surfaces are engrossing and entertaining while their depths challenge the validity of their characters’ mentalities — carpe diem and living in nostalgia.
Perhaps a balanced view which unites Sutter and Gary’s outlook is the key to finding sobriety: keeping an ear to the past with its good lessons to follow and bad examples to evade, and an eye to the future for direction, meanwhile always keeping your feet firmly planted in the now.
Joshua Cabrita is a Grade 11 student at Riverside Secondary. He is a founding member of the school's movie club, where students meet to view old classics and discuss their meaning and significance. One of his audacious dreams is to become a full-time professional film critic.