(James Ponsoldt, 2013)
Set within the usual movie-world of a High School in smalltown USA, complete with keg parties, proms, graduation and caring teachers, what really separates The Spectacular Now from most other teen movies is the acuity of its focus.
That focus is all on Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a loquacious, charmingly hedonistic senior who has just been dumped by his girlfriend, the smart, pretty Cassidy (Brie Larson) and finds himself approaching the first real turning point in his life. High School is ending, and Sutter, who is popular and seems genuinely happy with his life there, doesn't know what to do with himself. He is surprisingly drawn to the pretty, shy Aimee (Shailene Woodley) and they begin a tentative romance. But Sutter's own nature presents a problem to most everything in his life, and a long-awaited meeting with his absent, deadbeat father (Kyle Chandler) further complicates things.
Much here rests on Teller's performance, and he is exceptional, creating a character who is evidently charismatic but always sympathetic, despite the frequent idiocy of his behaviour. He matches the film - Ponsoldt has created a world which, while portraying an environment familiar from many teen movies, feels more authentic than most, both emotionally and dramatically. Teller is soulful and warm, like the movie, and Woodley is his equal, making Aimee a complicated girl, clever but bewitched by this charming youth and his sudden interest in her.
There are many lovely moments here - Sutter's intense, complex relationship with Cassidy, who knows she has to move on to allow her adult life to begin, but just can't let go, is always nicely observed and played, and Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Jason Leigh get one great scene each. The moments where Sutter and Aimee connect and grow closer always feel true and touching, and Ponsoldt is good on atmosphere and feel; this is a movie that feels as if its set in the real world, which is still rare in this genre. It always looks good - casually lush photography which never shies away from the spots and blemishes on the faces of its lead characters - but what is most notable is the emotional effect. Sutter's journey initially feels minor, even trifling, but it gathers weight and is moving by the last scene.