Imagine Elvis Presley reincarnated as a very tall and brainy American high school dude with a quip for every occasion, and you'll have an idea of the gently skewed charisma of Miles Teller, the gifted star of James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now. He plays Sutter, a graduating senior who at a glance would seem to have it all. Sutter already knows how to talk to the ladies he looms over them and he exudes a sweetness that can't be faked. He likes his job as a clothing-store clerk, and he seems to get off on every moment of every day. So what's the rub? During almost all of those moments, he's drinking (from a flask, or a soda cup he has secretly spiked with whiskey). He lives in the moment because he can't imagine a future.
One night, Sutter passes out on the lawn of Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a girl he's never noticed because she's bookish and quiet. He drifts into a rebound relationship, but is he falling in love or just using her? Maybe both, and the way he wakes up to what he's become a lush is darkly convincing. The Spectacular Now doesn't shrink from being an all-out teen movie (it has hookups and a senior prom). Yet it's one of the rare truly soulful and authentic teen movies. It's about the experience of being caught on the cusp and not knowing which way you'll land. A-