REVIEW: American Teen [2008]

“A lonely sock”

Documentaries have never been my genre of choice. I go to the movies to escape from reality and embed myself into a world unlike my own, or at least skewed enough to make me look upon my life and see what can be improved from the new experiences and ideas culled from the viewing. However, with American Teen I could not have been more engrossed in the trials and tribulations of senior year of high school. Watching this film, you will find a piece of yourself in each of the students followed around whether it the nerd, the outcast, the jock, or the prom queen. As Brian’s paper states at the conclusion of The Breakfast Club, we all have a little of each clique inside of us, it is just a matter of being confident in yourself to let those traits out when surrounded by those you don’t think of as your crowd. I started reliving moments from that time in my life, good and bad, sparked by the events occurring onscreen—things I may not have even thought I remembered too. Just because these are kids graduating six years after I did, in a school with technology my friends and I never dreamt of, (Texting in school during class? What the hell is texting?), all the craziness, emotion, pressure, and fight to either conform or be as different as possible definitely remains the same.

The great thing about this film is the utter candidness everyone involved portrays. These kids do horrible, horrible things to each other and yet none of them fear the camera they confess to. Everything is documented from moments amongst a group, confessionals alone with the camera, texting and phone conversations, even drinking binges in San Diego. I would love to see something on the DVD release showing everyone’s reactions to watching it all for the first time, whether they realized some of the things they did when they happened and if they feel any remorse now. It is all very genuine in most instances. Sure guys like Jake Tusing play to the camera to make him seem as dorky as possible and Mitch Reinholt performs for the filmmakers as he winks and talks to the camera while trying to get Hannah Bailey’s attention at the gas station, but it is all still their personalities coming through. My favorite has to be Miss Perfect Megan Krizmanich, though. She is so self-absorbed that everything going wrong has to be the fault of everyone but herself. Does she drive her friends away? Of course not, they abandon her. I feel sorry because that is just whom she is and how she was raised to be the best and go to Notre Dame like her father and siblings before her. It really is too bad because when we get to see the true her come out, as she speaks about her sister’s death, you can see the compassion that she hides deep down so as not to ruin her ice princess façade.

Nanette Burstein has crafted a highly enjoyable film with equal amounts of poignancy and laugh out loud moments. Her film is very funny, both in intentional and unintentional instances. Following these kids around for an entire school year, especially one with so much importance as senior year, the last seconds before going off into the real world of work, college, or the army, could not have been an easy task. It must have been even harder to edit down all the footage into the seamless progression we are shown. There is no true lead, besides the main four of Megan, Jake, Hannah, and basketball star Colin Clemens, and Burstein is never afraid to linger on the characters hanging out in the periphery. Some of these friends and acquaintances outshine the stars because they just interact with each other and never try to extrapolate their feelings for the camera. A guy like Geoff Haase or Megan’s friend that likes him or even Hannah’s best friend, always there for her, (I forget his name but he is such a mystery because you never get his reaction to it all, whether he has feelings for Hannah or if they truly are just friends), are the most intriguing.

Credit the parents, or the filmmakers for duping them, because to show some of the things going on takes some guts. We are privy to what could have easily been a felony/misdemeanor, underage drinking at private homes as well as bars and clubs, and some very cruel activities. You have to feel for Erica as her naked pose to the boy she liked spread like wildfire throughout the entire student body—I guess Vanessa Hudgens isn’t alone. And times like Megan’s party, when her two best friends put the moves on each other, seeing things get out of control. Screaming matches, tempers flaring, and even a face slap escalate what was a pretty chill get-together. For the cameraman and Burstein to be able to just sit back and watch, unknowing whether the anger rose because they knew they were on film and wanted to go all out, must have been tough. I know I would have wanted to step in and calm things down, especially being the adult when underage drinking is going on.

I really enjoyed following these kids around, reminiscing about the “hardships” my friends and I had in high school. We look back now and realize how easy we had it; despite thinking our lives were rough and stress ridden then. For a teenager, high school drama is all you have, your image is king and if you don’t like yourself, times can be very tough. I wonder what happened to Jake, which reinvention he chose for Wisconsin; whether Colin excelled at Indiana Tech’s basketball program; and how Hannah, the person I related to most being the middle of the pack, friends with all yet not quite included anywhere, dealt with her year in California and if she finally went to college. I hope everyone does well and maybe use this film experience as a way to see who they really are, altering themselves if necessary to be the best they can.

American Teen 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Jake Tusing stars in Nanette Burstein’s “American Teen”. Copyright: (c) 2007 by PARAMOUNT VANTAGE, a Division of PARAMOUNT PICTURES. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Courtesy of Paramount Vantage
[2] Hannah Bailey stars in Nanette Burstein’s “American Teen”. Copyright: (c) 2007 by PARAMOUNT VANTAGE, a Division of PARAMOUNT PICTURES. All Rights Reserved. Photo by James Rexroad


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