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Della S. from DOTHAN, AL
Reviewed on 2/1/2011...
Pretty neat documentary about---what else---the american teen. Some in the cast of characters go through classic teenage angst like not fitting in, being cheated on, jealousy, and getting a broken heart. While one is focusing on the future and working to impress the scouts for college scholarship opportunites, another has to impress no one and is accustomed to having her every wish granted, whether she deserves it or not. With a varied cast, there is someone for every viewer to root for, be it the band geek or the popular mean girl. An interesting and eye-opening movie with a final, "Where Are They Now?" at the end.
A documentary for people who don't like documentaries!
amerdale876 | MD | 02/04/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"American Teen begins with the echoing, bouncy guitar riffs from the Black Kids' I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You leading most of the public to think that this is yet another vapid movie about teenagers and the predictable storylines that usually accompany them. However, despite its Breakfast Club mock-up poster, there's something different about American Teen. Even though it's a documentary, the movie's advertising and beginning make it appear more as fiction rather than non-fiction. This documentary, brought to us by Nanette Burstein - who directed The Kid Stays in the Picture, a documentary bio about producer/actor Robert Evans - is shot in an attractive, contemporary style that brings a usually-dreaded genre (documentaries) to an audience (teenagers) that label them as such. With animated sequences and a stellar soundtrack, Burstein delivers a fun, truthful look into the lives of four high school seniors during their final school year.
Taking a cue from the classic generation-defining 1985 John Hughes teen movie The Breakfast Club, the teaser poster already sets up the tone for the "characters," featuring the students in the same poses and clothes as the characters from Hughes' cult classic. There's Hannah, in the place of Ally Sheedy's self-proclaimed "freak/loner" Allison Reynolds; Colin, in the place of Emilio Estevez's jock Andy Clark; Megan, in the place of Molly Ringwald's "princess" Claire Standish; Jake, in the place of Anthony Michael Hall's geek Brian Johnson; and, although advertised as a major character is actually just a reoccuring face, Mitch, in the place of Judd Nelson's rebel John Bender (which is not justified because Mitch is really the "popular pretty-boy." The main four characters are easily-lovable Hannah, teen "queen bee" Megan, likeable jock Colin, and quiet unpopular nice-guy Jake. Most politically correct people would say that there are no easy stereotypes in high school. Well, I hate to break it to these people, but ... there are. Although there are mixes of these archetypes (i.e. the rebel and the geek), unfortunately, high school life -- no matter where you grow up -- is this categorized.
Watching the documentary, the audience can tell that director Burstein obviously identifies with Hannah, the all-things-art student who, like a majority of high school seniors, longs to escape the humdrum existence within mid-West territory Warsaw, Indiana. Like most characters in fictional films, all of the "characters" in this documentary are easy to relate to, but, unlike most fictional films -- particularly teenage films -- this film is the real world. Budding romances don't pan out, friendships don't always last, and the ending doesn't end on a "and-they-lived-happily-ever-after" vibe. And that's the brilliance of this documentary. What makes American Teen so real is that, despite its modern alternative band soundtrack and contemporary, MTV-style clothing, it shows the audience the excruciating pain and overwhelming joy that both come with our memories and experiences of high school existence.
Some critics have noted that there are no African-American or gay/lesbian representation in this film, but I seem to laugh at those labels since both groups have supposedly never wanted to be singled out and therefore wanted to be treated nothing but equal. So, why do we need a "gay character" or "African-American character"? What makes American Teen so endearing is that it focuses more on those traits that every kid (regardless of race, religion, or sex) falls into during their high school years: a jock, a princess, a loner/rebel, a pretty-boy, a geek/nerd.
Most PC folk would say that it's completely close-minded of me to say that the high school hierarchy consists just of these stereotypes. I hate to break the news to these people, but it's true. When you're that age and in high school, that's all there really is to focus on. Your world is broken down into superlatives and trivial gossip and rumors. Still, even teenagers go through their serious life-altering events and that's what's at the heart of American Teen.
Rebel/outcast Hannah -- who I can tell Burstein identified with just by the way she filmed her -- longs to get out of her sleepy town and head to California. But what's hindering her is her fear that she might inherit the manic depression that's seized her mother. Besides her love-life, we get to witness her passions and her quirkiness that endears her to much of the audience. Then there's Hannah's social extreme opposite, Megan, a bitchy princess who deals with more than most her age. Not only is she pressured by her family to get into Notre Dame, but she's also dealing with the emotional repurcussions of her older sister's suicide. Colin, the star jock, has only one shot at his future: receive a basketball scholarship or join the Army to get tuition since his family doesn't have enough money. Lastly, there's Jake, who's teenage awkwardness and video game lifestyle alienates him from most ... especially girls. All he wants is to go someplace where he can start over and not be known as a nobody. All of these kids reflect something that anyone in the audience probably could relate to or reminisce and think, "That was me!"
Overall, I really enjoyed this documentary, but like most documentaries, I want to know what happened to the "characters" long after the filming ceased. One can only hope that maybe the DVD (by the time it's released) might have some "where are they now" special feature. I don't know if American Teen would be worth buying the DVD, but it's definitely worth a watch ... especially for parents. Watching the movie, I think, and am reminded, how intense growing up can be during that transition from kid to young adult. I think of how my children will feel and think when they're making that transition, and I only hope that I can be an important base of support for them. In the modern age of MTV's The Hills - The Complete First Season, with all its decadence and style, American Teen brings us to a normal teenage world that shows kids in a more realistic light -- one which we can all relate. And that's the movie's (and Burstein's) success."
Who Says a Documentary Cannot Tell a Good Story?!
Kevin Currie-Knight | Newark, Delaware | 02/28/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It is a real shame that this documentary does not appear to be distributed in any but a limited sense. Anyone interested in "getting to know" the world of adolescence - its turbulence, optimism, cliquishness - would find this movie very interesting and also entertaining (perhaps, in a way that many "scripted" portrayals cannot).
American Teenager tells the senior-year story of four very different teens living in the affluent "red state" town of Warsaw, IN (and a surrounding cast of characters). Each story is compelling in its own way, and what the cast lacks in "cultural diversity," is made up in diversity of personality and story. The primary "cast" is:
--Alison, the "artistic" student knkown to others as a bit eclectic. We follow her struggle to deal with relationsips and attempt to follow her dream of being a film director.
--Colin, a leader on the school's varsity basketball team, who must juggle his desire to be noticed by collge scouts with a need to be a team player.
--Megan - the super-popular and -rich student who has it all (inlcuding "all" of the high expectations of her well-to-do family).
--Jake, the "band nerd" who can trace the start of his social akwardness precise moment in middle school. We watch him struggle to break out of his shell in order to find love.
If we didn't know any better, we might think that these characters were written by script-writers, as each fits well ino their particular stereotype (the artsy one, the rich kid, the jock, the nerd). In fact, one of the most peculiar things about this documentary is that, while films about teens often strive to question stereotypes, I think this film (very inadvertently) shows that sterotypes are often fairly accurate (in a way neither good nor bad, but neutral). Through its "fly on the wall" approach, we watch each student navigate within their "groups" and sometimes, strive to go beyond them (with mixed results).
This film is very fun and refreshing in that it attempts to be nothing more than an interesting story about a world so different from the "adult world" that we get so used to. American teenager very skillfully captures the tumultuous time of being a high-school senior, and its mixture of optimism, uncertainty, and transition from childhood to a looming adulthood. I don't think the film will, or was intended to, "shock" or provoke as much as it is to simplky explain and inform about what high-school life looks like (and I think the viewer will discover that while many details have changed, the hopes, fears, and stresses remain the same as when they were in school. While American Teenager portrays a very homogenous population of white, upper-middle class kids in a conservative town, these could be any kids almost anywhere.
Overall, a very fun and interesting film. If you are looking for a good story line - as good as any scripted ones - this is a great film. If you are looking for a thought-provoking film, American Teenager is not where you want to go. ("Kids," it is most certainily not.)
American Teen DVD review
Matthew G. Sherwin | last seen screaming at Amazon customer service | 12/24/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"American Teen gives us a pretty accurate portrayal of high school life for the relatively comfortable mainstream American society. The pace of the movie flows along pretty well although it could have been edited down a few minutes to make it tighter.
As some people have said and will say, the issues these teens grapple with are trite--and to a person my age (mid 40s) these issues ARE trite! However, when you're seventeen or eighteen, these issues and concerns really DO mean a lot; and this is part of normal development. For example, issues may include: Who is going out with whom? How will I be able to go back to school after my soul mate just dumped me? Will I get into Notre Dame and why did they change the prom theme behind my back? Sure, these concerns may well be trite to us; but they are and will remain big time issues to young people going through high school. Of course, there are other issues teens have to deal with in this film which are very significant; but I'm certainly not going to spoil it for you!
The young people we meet are interesting to watch; you learn so much about them just by watching them and how they interact with their peers. There's Megan, the high school "queen bee" with her own Mercedes, who can be rather nasty not just because she is immature but also because she holds back real anger and other feelings as she deals with high pressure family issues. The film also follows Colin, a high school jock who's really a very nice guy--and funny--but his only real chance for a college education hinges on a basketball scholarship after his pushy, pushy father forces him into basketball from the time when he was merely taking his very first few steps; and we meet the high school geek Jake who is very undervalued because he's awkward and not very "popular" with the people who are "popular!" There's also Alison, who is "artsy" and believed to be a bit "strange" by the standards of the relatively conservative Indiana community and even by her peers; and Hannah is another very interesting person. And then there's Mitch, a good looking guy all the girls want to date, who doesn't get too much screen time even though he's considered to be one of the people spotlighted in this film.
The DVD comes with extras; I particularly liked the deleted scenes. There's a featurette entitled "Hannah Blogs" and we get another bonus, "Pop Quiz: Cast Interviews."
American Teen may appear trite and very focused on people living relatively comfortable lives; but these are the ups and downs many people experience when they're in high school. Admittedly, the film falls down somewhat because it doesn't deal with more serious issues that also affect many people, including how to manage high school while pregnant and/or living in abject poverty,. Therefore, I can't give this five stars because a very real part of society is excluded from this film; but the teen angst we watch these young people experience is very real and in that sense the film does a good job."