There’s a truly remarkable scene in The Spectacular Now, out August 2, that knocked me flat when I saw it at the Sundance Film Festival. It stars Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley as two high schoolers embarking on a tentative romance, and it’s the beginning of that relationship that the movie nails so well: Over the course of one long scene, these two kids who don’t have much in common — Teller’s character Sutter isn’t used to girls who are as down to earth as Woodley’s Aimee, while Aimee can’t conceive that the popular Sutter would have any interest in her — have a conversation on the way back from a lakeside party, and at the end, they share their first awkward kiss. At the end of this long, single take, which must span about five minutes, I was convinced that I had just watched two people fall in love.
We’ve got the tail end of that scene as a Vulture exclusive — hey, if you want to see the whole thing, you’ll have to buy a ticket — but here’s what director James Ponsoldt had to say about it.
“This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie. I always knew I wanted to film in it one long, continuous, unedited take, walking and talking with Aimee and Sutter, feeling like we — the audience — are part of a natural conversation that ebbs and flows from goofy and awkward to serious to emotional to flirtatious and nervous to … a first kiss. I wanted the scene to feel as natural as life. Of course, it meant that the burden was on Shailene and Miles to nail the scene (in a long take, everything has to come together perfectly, or else the shot is useless), and our camera operator had to back-pedal for 5 minutes on a muddy, slippery path.
What Shailene and Miles ultimately did in this scene is so casual and unguarded and spontaneous that some people think the scene was improvised. It wasn’t. Shailene and Miles are just that great as actors — so present, so connected to their roles, and so willing to embrace whatever happens in the moment (bumping into a tree branch or swatting a pesky mosquito, hearing rumbling storm clouds, etc.).
To put it simply, here’s why this scene is one of my favorites: It actually feels like two people falling for each other.
I’ve seen this scene over a thousand times and I still get chills when Miles and Shailene kiss. I’m so, so inspired by their beautiful work.”