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USA 2008
Directed by
Nanette Burstein
95 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

American Teen

Synopsis: Five American teens are in their last year of high school in a middle class, Mid-west school in Iowa. Hannah Bailey doesn't fit into the mainstream crowd and aspires to a creative life; Colin Clemens is a talented sports jock who needs to win a basketball scholarship to be able to go to university; Jake Tusing is an acne-troubled “nerd”, with major interest in video games and scoring a girlfriend; Megan Krizmanich is the glamorous, popular and bitchy “Queen Bee”, who is under extreme parental pressure to get into a prestigious university; and lastly there is Mitch Reinholt, an attractive and much desired heart-throb, who risks his popularity by dating Hannah.

When I heard this film’s title I envisaged another schlocky teen flick, unaware that this is in fact an incisive and surprisingly-well executed documentary that takes us through the stresses and drama of what it means to be a teen today in middle class America. Burstein filmed her subjects for ten months then put it all together in a remarkable editing feat to give us the feel of a feature film rather than a conventional documentary.

I am extremely impressed with Burstein’s directional techniques and talent. For a moment I found myself wondering if this even was a documentary - it seems as if it were planned yet it’s all so spontaneous and real. Burstein has managed to get into an intimate space with all her characters. We see them as life happens, fly on the wall style. All the main subjects are completely at ease in front of the camera, a testament to the trust Burstein must have generated.

There is little point citing the zillions of teen movies that have graced our screens, beginning way back with 1955’s iconic Rebel Without A Cause, and all the different takes that have been made on those special years. American Teen takes a real view of life as a teen and shows that it's not the carefree time it’s cracked up to be but, rather, is riddled with rivalry and self-doubt, and, as strongly reflected here, huge parental pressure and expectations to get out and do well in the world.

As well as filming the main five subjects, there are also the insights and experiences of other friends in the peer group. An engaging bonus is the several fabulous video animations designed to give an insight into the hearts and minds of our main characters, each of whom has an animation sequence reflecting their personalities and fantasies.

With an eclectic use of music, American Teen really is a fine and surprising achievement, winning a directing award at Sundance, and countless audience popularity awards. We were all teens once, and this really helps us remember, and see beyond the stereotypes, giving us a more compassionate view of the next, oft-maligned generation.




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