American Teen (2008)

Dir. Nanette Burstein

This a movie Mitchell will want to see whether it’s good or not, (I expect that he’ll at least think it’s OK.) so I’d say he can see this without knowing anything more about it. I’d recommend this next to Tony; then Penny and Grace. Kevin and Chris will probably this at least somewhat interesting, although I wouldn’t recommend they go out of their way to see this. Joel, Jill and Don would probably think this is OK. I gave it a t because I thought it was fairly entertaining and well-made, even though I felt disappointed in other ways.

Burstein selects five 2006 high school seniors–each of whom fall into the stereotype of The Breakfast Club (a “heart-throb” replaces the “criminal”) and follows them for a year. Basically, it’s a “reality film” in similar way that MTV’s “reality TV” was produced.

The best way to approach this film is not to think of it as a documentary, but as a “reality film.” What’s the difference? In a documentary, I think there greater effort to document the subject as they are. Of course, the director’s decisions for the camera, questions and editing significantly influence the film, but the goal is to minimize this influence and provide the most realistic portrayal of the subject as possible. I think documentarians seek to understand their subjects more so than entertain the audience.

The film didn’t feel like the director was going for these things. There were a lot of questions and situations that I felt would have been really interesting (if not crucial), but were never explored or asked. In a way, I feel like see only the surface of these people, not who they really are. But the editing is pretty well done, keeping the film moving along; we see melodramatic situations that make reality TV entertaining, and it does keep your interest.

There’s also the issue of the way that the filmmakers don’t distort the subjects and the reality of their lives. The fact that reality TV is part of the landscape adds another obstacle to getting at “reality.”

On a personal note, I found the film difficult to watch at times. There are scenes that are obviously painful to watch (Jake). But it just made me think of how fast my life is going by. It’s been twenty-two years since I’ve been in high school, but it sure doesn’t feel that long.

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