Review by Jack Foley
NANETTE Burstein’s documentary American Teen was presumably conceived to show that the stereotypical Hollywood image of teenagers was wide of the mark. Instead, it proves that films like American Pie and The Breakfast Club are pretty much on the money.
The film follows five real American high school students – a jock, a geek, a princess, a heartthrob and a rebel – through their final year as they prepare for the next stage of their lives, as well as the end-of-year rite-of-passage that is prom. It also drops in voiceover, animated sequences and a hip soundtrack (including the likes of MGMT) in a bid to freshen up the more traditional documentary approach.
But while engaging in places, the film seldom seems real. Most, if not all, of the main protagonists find themselves playing to the camera and, as a result, conform to the stereotypes that populate most American genre movies.
And Burstein’s direction feels contrived and manipulated, with the editing on several occasions showing that the director hasn’t chosen to cut the film chronologically.
There is betrayal, there is the “big sports moment” where a future hangs in the balance, and there’s even an internet/mobile phone sequence where a high school bitch sends everyone a topless photo of another of her fellow students. Quite how Burstein’s camera got to so many places to register the looks of horror is one of many instant questions posed by the supposed reality we’re supposed to be watching.
American Teen isn’t without curiosity value and may well appeal to those who get their kicks from reality TV – by virtue of the fact that everyone is a real person.
But it felt like a pointless experience to me, as well as a failed filmmaking experiment. You’re better off sticking to re-runs of your favourite college movies, which don’t come with as much of a pretentious attitude.
Running time: 100mins
UK DVD Release: June 22, 2009