Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) ambles through parties and high school hallways like a young Vince Vaughn. He's all charm and compliments and, seemingly, confidence in "The Spectacular Now."
He often has a slight buzz on, even more than the other seniors who clutch red plastic cups with foamy beer at parties. Sutter keeps a flask filled with whiskey and often spikes his takeout soft drinks.
3.5 stars = Very Good
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley.
R for alcohol use, language and some sexuality -- all involving teens.
The alcohol leads to a twisted meet-cute with good girl Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), a classmate who's not part of his circle. She awakens him at 6 a.m. on the lawn where he passed out or fell asleep or both; Aimee is preparing to deliver newspapers for her mother, who needs the route money to pay the bills.
Sutter, fresh from yet another breakup with his vivacious, partying girlfriend (Brie Larson), suggests he and Aimee have lunch, not imagining they will. But they do, and she starts to tutor him in geometry, and he invites her to a party and encourages her to stand up to her mother.
Although wildly different in their class rank, approach to life and view of the future, they both come from families broken. No one would ever put them together, but they prove surprisingly compatible.
"The Spectacular Now," directed by James Ponsoldt and based on the Tim Tharp young adult novel, follows them through the usual senior year rituals but with the freshest eye since "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."
"God, this is awesome, everybody singing and dancing and falling in love," Sutter says at one point. "This is our night. This is the youngest we're ever going to be."
The leads are tremendous, building on the promise they demonstrated in "Rabbit Hole" (him) and "The Descendants" (her). Mr. Teller was heartbreaking as a teen whose car kills a 4-year-old who dashed into the street, while Ms. Woodley more than held her own as George Clooney's daughter, sobbing underwater when she learns of her mother's grave prognosis after a boating mishap.
Ms. Woodley, by the way, now is filming "The Fault in Our Stars" in Pittsburgh.
Both are standouts in a scene where the teens meeting with someone proves unpredictable and ultimately disappointing. Ms. Woodley's face flickers with slight nervousness while Mr. Teller tries to navigate the minefield of a conversation; earlier, when he learned a surprising fact about Aimee his cheeks flared red with surprise and sympathy.
"The Spectacular Now" reflects today's times, when high schoolers often live with single parents (due to divorce or death), hold down after- or before-school jobs, pledge allegiance to their friends and focus or avoid thinking about college.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler and Mary Elizabeth Winstead turn up as some of the adults in their orbit.
In a key plot point from the book, and perhaps a reflection of real life, "The Spectacular Now" pours on the alcohol in a big and disconcerting way.
Keg parties are one thing, but allowing Sutter and Aimee to down pitchers of beer in a bar with an irresponsible adult patron is quite another, and the mature-looking Sutter seems to have little trouble getting served or avoiding the police when driving drunk.
Nevertheless, "The Spectacular Now" is one of the best movies of the summer, with an ending tweaked from the novel. It's a tender portrait of young love, hard truths and lessons about living in the present but remembering to lay a foundation for the future.
Opens today at Cinemark theaters in Robinson and Tarentum, with more theaters Friday.moviereviews