The Spectacular Now ★★★★½

It's a month before summer break, and senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is happily and aimlessly drifting through his last few weeks in high school. However, after he gets dumped by his girlfriend and goes on a night-long bender, he wakes up in the front of Amy Finicky (Shailene Woodley), a shy, quiet girl from school who Sutter's never talked to. As the two become friends and eventually a couple, the easy-going, carefree Sutter is forced to confront his personal demons and the questionable future that lies ahead of him.

From an extremely basic plot perspective, "The Spectacular Now" isn't necessarily anything mind-blowlingly original. Charming yet emotionally stunted boy meets sweet, quirky, introverted girl--girl teaches boy to not push away his feelings, boy teaches girl to experience life to the fullest--fairly standard fare. However, what puts "The Spectacular Now" miles ahead of the pack is the way it candidly and respectfully explores the realities of being young and lost. Though the characters do fit certain stereotypes in the broadest sense, they are grounded and made achingly real by the subtly and complexity of the script pared with nuanced, resonant performances from Teller and Woodley. I watched a short featurette about the making of the film, and in it, both actors said they were given a lot of freedom to bring their own personalities and experiences to their roles, and it definitely shows. Far from being the inch-deep caricatures that often populate teen movies, both Sutter and Amy feel palpable and complex, both relatable and flawed.

The direction of "The Spectacular Now" is equally superb. Though the film does include some of your run-of-the-mill high school scenes--prom, parties, etc,--for the most part, director James Ponsoldt stays away from flashy situations or set pieces, choosing instead to focus on the mundane details of the day to day life of teenagers. What makes this effective and not dull is the understanding Ponsoldt has for his subjects; he treats every aspect of Sutter and Amy--their relationship, sex, sorrows--with respect and maturity, neither writing it off as 'dumb kid stuff' or making the two seem like thirty-year-olds, which happens with remarkable frequency in these sorts of movies. As a result, Ponsoldt manages to make one of the handful of movies in the last decade that truly captures the candid reality of being a teenager in the 21st century.