American Teen

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Posted July 24, 2008 in Film

As enjoyable as Nanette Burnstein’s documentary about four Midwestern high school seniors is, our appetite for watching young people do silly, overly sincere, and sometimes brave things is surpassed by the number of junk food shows trying to cram it down our throats. Though the edits stuff together every tear and kiss, you can learn as much about the teen psyche by analyzing their MySpace pages. Megan is the athletic mean girl whose friends suffer as outlets of her pressure to get in to Notre Dame; Jake seems comfortable dismissing himself self-described “marching band supergeek,” but trembles with optimism when a girl might like him; basketball stud Colin doesn’t say much—his dad, an Elvis impersonator, is louder at insisting he win a sports scholarship. And then there’s Hannah who most hip-city audiences will cling to as their former self. Quirkily pretty and independent, she fights for permission to move to San Francisco after graduation and be a filmmaker—qualities that seem to have caused Burnstein to tie the film’s arc to her as she plummets into a depression, claws out of it in time to fall for a handsome jock, and then use the fallout from the resulting clique warfare to help define herself. With “reality” becoming increasingly fictionalized, we’re at once suspicious of the film’s truth and forgiving of its false moments—it’s just one more pleasant nothing. Though American Teen’s the first cousin of a wholly disposable genre, the film aims for timelessness by avoiding topical issues. Specificality, however, would at least have given it the status of a time capsule. (Amy Nicholson)

 


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