High school movies fetishize compartmentalization more than the manager of a Container Store. Teenagers are divided up into cliques and sub-cliques, the taxonomy of which is often explained in sarcastic voice-over. Of course, the real American educational experience is much more amorphous: A jock can be a stoner, the AV club president can be popular, and that kid in marching band might also tear it up in the battle of the bands. High school is where you start to figure out who you’re going to be, not determine your personality once and for all.
The Spectacular Now (2013, 1 hr., 35 mins., R), James Ponsoldt’s disarmingly honest tale of teenage romance and self-discovery, is one of the few movies that capture the quavering moment of being on the cusp of adulthood, where the suburban avenues of your youth finally merge onto the freeway of the rest of your life. Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a charismatic senior riding the crest of his current existence while remaining allergic to planning for the future. He falls for Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), a girl a few rungs down the social ladder. But this is no Pygmalion story. One of the film’s great feats is that the audience never needs to be told why these two are together: We can see it for ourselves. A-