James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are excellent in "Enough Said."

James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are excellent in "Enough Said."

Ponsoldt's love for actors shows in 'Spectacular Now'

For director James Ponsoldt, too many movies are characterized by a clear, black-and-white sense of good and bad.

Describing his new film, “The Spectacular Now,” he says, “Here it's murky and gray and comes from a place of neediness, and desire to be liked. You want a character to be stronger than that, but I challenge any filmgoer to say they've always been that strong. I know I haven't.”

In the movie, based on the novel of the same name by Tim Tharp, high school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is the good-time guy everyone knows and likes. He lives in the moment, though he is perhaps a bit too fond of drinking.

Early on, he passes out and wakes up on the front lawn of shy, bookish Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), who doesn't quite know where she fits in the world.

Together they form a nuanced and troubled relationship.

Ponsoldt has directed two great performances — Teller and Woodley won a shared acting prize at the Sundance Film Festival — and clearly has a love for actors.

He says Woodley has “strength and intelligence and a distinct lack of vanity.” He compares her to Sissy Spacek, Barbara Hershey and Debra Winger at the same age.

As for Teller, Ponsoldt saw and admired him in the drama “Rabbit Hole,” and compares him to Henry Fonda and Jean Gabin.

“There's so much chaos in so many of these films, but they're just still, and their eyes can tell you everything. And he has that,” Ponsoldt says. “He has more charisma than any actor I've met in my life, and he has soul.”

Oddly, Ponsoldt's first two features, “Off the Black” and last year's “Smashed,” also dealt with alcoholism to some degree.

“I'm not an alcoholic. I drink, but not that much,” he says. “People around me have dealt with substance abuse of different types. I don't really pass judgment. It's not that strange to me. Everyone has some kind of scar tissue.”

Thanks to movie-loving parents, Ponsoldt developed a taste for the “weird comedy-dramas” of the 1970s and 1980s, which have defined his approach to filmmaking.

“I couldn't tell a story where I can't find myself in the characters,” he says. “I've been profoundly weak and stupid and bad to the people that I love. I wish I was always good and selfless, but I'm a human.


The Spectacular Now

Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Written by Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber

Directed by James Ponsoldt

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 35 minutes

Note: Screenwriter Scott Neustadter appears tonight at Sundance Kabuki and Century 9 SF Centre theaters.

artsJames PonsoldtMiles TellerMoviesThe Spectacular Now

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Indoor dining at John’s Grill. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
State’s mask mandate to continue until June 15 reopening despite CDC guidance

By Eli Walsh Bay City News Foundation California will wait until next… Continue reading

A cyclist heads past an artistic sign onto Page Street, a Slow Street, at Stanyan Street near Golden Gate Park on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Push to make street closures permanent meets with resistance

Hastily thrown together during the pandemic, Slow Streets program now struggles to build support

Agnes Liang, who will be a senior at Mission High School, is running for one of the two student representative seats on the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Turbulent year on school board leaves student delegates undeterred

Around this time last year, Shavonne Hines-Foster and Kathya Correa Almanza were… Continue reading

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Three people killed in SF shootings in less than 24 hours

San Francisco police were scrambling Saturday to respond to a series of… Continue reading

Pearl Marill takes flight as Hermes in “Psychopomp” in McLaren Park. (Courtesy We Players)
‘Psychopomp’ a magical, meditative walk through McLaren Park

We Players’ live show takes theatergoers on enchanting journey

Most Read