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Review: American Teen

American Teen
8 10

PLOT - AMERICAN TEEN is billed as a modern day BREAKFAST CLUB, complete with the requisite Princess, Heartthrob, Jock, Rebel and Geek. In reality it is much more than that. The film follows five teens through their senior year in Warsaw, Indiana. A time filled with self-discovery, social challenges and an open-ended future ripe with opportunity and uncertainty.

REVIEW - High School is often remembered with reverie as a time of freedom, friendship and identity. In actuality it is often a time of frienemies and cliques, where social status, or lack thereof, can change on whim. When Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture) followed students for ten months at Warsaw High School, she ended up with a poignant portrait of adolescence that challenges any delusions you may have held about that time in your life.

“We’ll leave her a message telling her not to kill herself.”

We first meet Megan Krizmanich, the resident Home Coming Queen/Queen Bee who holds your social status in the palm of her hands. Piss Megan off and you’re in for a world of hurt. When a girl hooks up with her best friend Geoff, a jealous Megan unleashes a despicable email assault. She comes from the most affluent family in town, comprised of a long heritage of Notre Dame alumni. Maintaining this tradition is her lot in life. Although her Dad gamely tries to assure her he won’t be disappointed if she doesn’t get in, he is clearly full of shit.

“Second only to Jesus.”

As the star of the Varsity Basketball Team, Colin Clemens’ popularity is profuse, a genuinely good kid that seems to deserve this level of adulation. Refreshingly! The son of a former basketball star, current Elvis impersonator, Colin is driven to win a college basketball scholarship. If Colin is unable to sign that letter of intent, he’ll likely be signing military recruitment papers instead.

“I do love the ladies, but the ladies don’t love me.” A band geek and video game freak, Jake wants nothing more than to find his Fairytale Princess. He is small, pimply, and socially paralyzed, but one-on-one with girls he is surprisingly bold. In one of my favorites scenes Jake asks a girl out, she mentions she’s busy for the next couple weeks. Jake responds by asking her to go to the movies three weeks from Saturday. Although I don’t think he ever got that date, it was a brilliant moment of assertiveness that would alter his entire universe if he could only harness it all the time.

“Anywhere where Arnold can be elected Governor… that’s fucked up.”

If I had gone to school with Hannah Bailey, I would have been in love with her. A free spirit obsessed with art, film, music and California. With self-described dependency problems, Hannah is literally crippled for weeks after her boyfriend Joel breaks up with her. She skips school to the brink of failing the year. When she finally returns, she does so with the resolve to avoid a boyfriend at all costs so nothing gets in her way of film school in San Francisco.

“His lifestyle is a mystery to me.”

Mitch Reinholt is the guy that all the girls want to date. He’s good-looking, charming and runs with the cool crowd. When he sets his sights on Hannah her goal of escaping Indiana is suddenly jeopardized.

AMERICAN TEEN presents five kids that are every bit their stereotype, but at the same time they transcend the labels in ways that don’t happen enough in scripted films.

The thing that makes this film so compelling is it is true reality. A gruesome horror movie can be an exhilarating night at the movies, but those events in real life are deplorable. In that same light, I found myself thinking about how I would be reacting differently if these were characters instead of human beings. Megan is clearly cast as the Queen villain. A work of fiction would be unsatisfying if she didn’t get knocked off her throne. I would be rooting for her to get rejected by Notre Dame, or to be publicly humiliated by an embarrassing email that circulates the school. But that’s not what I felt at the end of this film. When Colin refuses to pass the ball to his teammates I would think he was selfish, but he’s just a kid desperate to prove himself. When Jake IM’s a girl to ask how much she likes him on a scale of 1 to 10, I would laugh. Here I wanted to smash his monitor so he never sees her response. When Hannah refuses to go to school, I would think she is weak. Here I wanted to give her a hug and somehow find the words to assure her this isn’t the defining relationship of her life.

The five teens have arcs, some more than others, but over the course of ten months they change. The thing that is most fascinating about this film is the period of self-discovery they’ve been granted since the film’s release. An epilogue during the closing credits feels like a 4th act. After seeing the celluloid version of themselves, they each seemed to gain a clarity of character I wish was afforded to every teen struggling through high school. Hopefully, America’s teens will see this film. I think the ones that do will find a way to relate, and maybe they’ll walk out knowing everything is going to be all right. This film can do that.

SCORE: 8/10





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