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American Teen

  • Film

Time Out says

This documentary, with its slick surface and emotional buzz moments, follows five final-year teens at an Indiana high school who are filmed doing what teens do: preening, flirting, playing, working and worrying. It’s very MTV in style and might pass muster on the box, but as cinema it feels like a six-part ‘reality’ television series chopped into 102 minutes. You half expect it to be bookended by music videos and interrupted with ads for hair products and mobile phones.

Director Nanette Burstein (‘The Kid Stays in the Picture’) picks her victims because they conform to stereotypes: Megan is the school’s ‘biggest bitch’, popular and over-achieving; Colin is a basketball star, likeable and determined; Hannah is the pale-faced rebel who wants to move to California and make movies; Mitch is the handsome jock; and Jake is the spotty geek who can’t find a girl. There’s a whiff of artifice to the film, not because anything is made up, but because Burstein is happy to frame real events like fiction. So when pupils forward to other students’ mobiles a photo of a peer with her breasts out, we’re party to the reactions of many of the recipients.

Burstein is also fond of employing tacky establishing shots of people’s houses to make us feel like we’re in sitcom territory and many of the film’s ‘situations’, whether a house party or a couple hanging out, don’t feel natural at all. It has its pleasures, not least because pantomime villains, heroes and underdogs emerge and there are hints of truths, both sad and happy, which you wish were explored deeper. It’s a lightly amusing film but it’s also an unchallenging one which reinforces presumptions about kids rather than surprising with new insights. It floats in the shallow end of filmmaking.
Written by Dave Calhoun

Release Details

  • Rated:15
  • Release date:Friday 6 March 2009
  • Duration:102 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Nanette Burstein
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