Tuesday, August 12, 2008

SX0T's American Teen Review

I just had a chance to see a screening of American Teen, the new documentary about high school students in a small town in Indiana by Nanette Burstein, most well known for directing 2002's film festival highlight called The Kid Stays in the Picture. The film follows the stereotypical cliques of high school, jock, geek, rebel, princess - you know...The Breakfast Club. Was it more than just a Breakfast Club knockoff? Sure. Was it worth a watch? Absolutely.

The Awesome

This film is more than just a Breakfast Club ripoff. If you have any memory of high school, you will most likely identify with this documentary. You will feel for some, if not all of the characters at some point during the film. The film does an excellent job of providing characters that are interesting and fun to watch. High School at times can seem so trivial to someone that is past it, but for some reason you want to watch what happens to all of these people.

The film also has a fair amount of humor to back it up. I found myself laughing out loud a few times during the film. Sometimes with the characters, sometimes at them. It's no Judd Apatow production in terms of laughs, but it helps and makes the film a little more fun to watch. This movie has heart - that's for damn sure.

The Not So Awesome

The movie pretty much IS The Breakfast Club, so minus some points for not being as awesome. There are some animation things that take place every once and a while that feel completely unnecessary and out of place. I really don't know why the little animations were in the film. They just distracted me. The film has a certain MTV quality that will surely turn off documentary purists. This could be seen as a negative, or a positive.

These next few comments are not really negatives, more neutrals. Things that could be seen as good or bad depending on who is viewing the film. If you are looking for some sort of social commentary or for the "secret life of high schoolers" to be exposed here. You won't find it. It is simply an honest look at what it is to be a teenager. Not trying to make them look bad or good. It feels like a super long episode of MTV's Made that features 5 or 6 characters. And while this may be offputting to some, it seemed to work for this film.

Another thing that bothered me slightly was the fact that the "rebel/outcast" girl seemed to be the central character of the film. While she certainly was the most interesting of the characters, I couldn't help but think the filmmaker spent more time on her character simply because of some sort of "artistic" connection to a story such as hers (hates her small town, likes art, wants to go to Cali to be a filmmaker).

There is also word floating around that much of the film was staged, ala Laguna Beach/The Hills or whatever the hell those shows are. If this is the case, I'm sorely disappointed that the makers of this documentary went to those lengths for a story, but until I hear otherwise, I'll just take this as rumors.


Overall I think that this film is an important addition to the documentary genre, even if a little shallow in terms of it's social impact. It was enjoyable to watch with highly relative characters that were easy to relate to (even though they graduated something like 4-5 years after I did). The film has it's small share of issues, but if they can be ignored for the enjoyment of the film, they are things that can easily be overlooked. I've seen better, but I also left smiling. In this media obsessed world we live in, it must have been difficult to get some true emotion out of these students who are ever aware of the present camera. And they do. At times you can see they are faking for the camera, but the moments that slip through that and some the real side are the moments that count. Overall I would give this film a 7 out of 10.

As a side note, I really hate the marketing for this film. They decided to go with a spoof of The Breakfast Club poster. There is actually a really great yellow poster (which I am having trouble finding a good picture of because they stopped using it for marketing) - but instead they are doing this dumb Breakfast Club spoof poster. All this says to me is "we have no faith in our film and need to attach it to something respectable" what a shame.

Posted by SX0T at 9:45 PM |  


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