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TOP 100 MOVIES in 2008!
AMERICAN TEEN, 2008
Documentary following the lives of four teenagers--a jock, the popular girl, the artsy girl and the geek--in one small town in Indiana through their senior year of high school. We see the insecurities, the cliques, the jealousies, the first loves and heartbreaks, and the struggle to make profound decisions about the future. Filming daily for ten months, filmmaker Nanette Burstein developed a deep understanding of her subjects. The result is a film that goes beyond the enduring stereotypes of high school to render complex young people trying to find their way into adulthood.
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Teen angst has always provided a compelling form of storytelling, especially everyone has a story that they can relate to. There are those who know a Stifler from American Pie or an offbeat like Allison in The Breakfast Club, but these are all characters that have been exaggerated for the sake of entertainment. Fortunately, here comes a documentary that captures teen angst and reminds us that sometimes the issues we dealt with high school weren’t that bad. Although for some, they were.
The poster suggests that the teenagers who make up the main subjects follow in the stereotypical footsteps of The Breakfast Club. Note quite. There’s a lot more heart and sincerity in this film, not to say that the Breakfast Club was something less, but because it was scripted it was contrived. Here we’re dealing with real teenagers and real issues that for them seem bigger than life itself.
Hannah is the rebel and defacto protagonist of the film who is really more of an artist than a rebel. She starts off the film with her story that intertwines with several of the other characters particularly Matt’s. When we’re first introduced to Hannah, her boyfriend just broke up with her causing her to dive into a serious depression that affects her school work. We watch as she tries to rebound in school, bring up her grades, maintain a social life when she starts dating Matt, and prepare herself for when she moves on and out of Warsaw, the town the film takes place.
Colin is not the stereotypical jock who defies all preconceived notions of what it means to be a jock. His laid back open attitude is not something you see in high school that show the meat heads picking on the little, scoring with the cheerleader and claiming stardom when they get out of high school. Colin is simply a well liked guy looking to get into the college he wants to play basketball, a game which has defined his high school career. For people in Warsaw, when they think basketball they think Colin. But throughout the film we see him struggle with decisions about his future as he struggles to maintain a solid basketball career in his final year as senior.
Megan is the stereotypical princess. She’s the queen bee with a rather nasty attitude that she lets out when she victimizes a former friend by emailing salacious photos of her throughout the school. She delights in drama and the suffering of others. But there’s more to her story. Her back story is probably the most compelling and heartbreaking out of the cast as she goes on to describe an incident that happened to her sister. It is deeply touching and emotionally wrenching to see.
Jake plays video games, is in the school band and nothing less than a geek. But he desperately wants to connect with someone, preferably with someone of the opposite sex. His story provides some great satisfaction as we see this loner find a relationship that may mean more in the future.
Then there’s Mitch, the Luke Perry of his school, who doesn’t have much screen time and only shows up towards the end romancing Hannah. Their scenes together are well done with the editing doing a nice job at capturing their tender moments. By the end of the film, Burstein resolves all the stories including the puppy love of Hannah/Mitch with an update on how the former American Teen stars are doing today. You can even find them on Facebook.
Despite the criticism surrounding the film about whether or not some of it was scripted, American Teen a tender and captivating examination of teen drama and the insecurities that lie behind the stereotypical personas. It’s a film that explores teen angst without a judgmental tone. It would be easy to convey Megan as nothing more than a one note attention seeker, but she’s not. There’s depth to her and every person shown, and Burstein does a great job giving us all angles. All five of these kids turned into characters who grow more into themselves before our eyes, and for some remind us that high school wasn’t that bad.