“The scars and blemishes on the faces of the high-school lovers in “The Spectacular Now” are beautifully emblematic of director James Ponsoldt’s bid to bring the American teen movie back to some semblance of reality, a bid that pays off spectacularly indeed. Skillfully adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel, evocatively lensed in the working-class neighborhoods of Athens, Ga., and tenderly acted by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, this bittersweet ode to the moment of childhood’s end builds quietly to a pitch-perfect finale. Warts-and-all authenticity can be a tough sell, but Ponsoldt’s bracing youth pic seems bound to graduate with honors.
Working with a sensitive script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (“500 Days of Summer”), Ponsoldt follows his “Off the Black” and “Smashed” with another insightful study of a flawed protagonist’s hard-fought battle against forces, including alcohol, that keep him or her from growing to fruition. Dumped by his gorgeous girlfriend (Brie Larson) in the early going, whiskey-swilling senior Sutter Keely (Teller) swiftly rebounds by making a charismatic play for book-smart Aimee Finecky (Woodley), who finds him passed out at dawn on a neighbor’s front yard and is astounded when the school’s hungover party monster returns her gaze. Aimee, having never had a boyfriend, naturally falls hard for the ultra-confident but scholastically challenged Sutter as she tutors him in geometry and he teaches her how to drink. Although Sutter can’t stop mildly flirting with his ex, he makes the moves on Aimee anyway, alarming friends of both….Ponsoldt, with the help of Jess Hall’s attentive cinematography, does an excellent job of letting the drama play out on the imperfect faces of his two young leads, both of whom embody a delicate combination of fearlessness and vulnerability”—Rob Nelson, Variety. R. 95 min.
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