American Teen (USA; 95 min.)


directed by: Nanette Burstein
documentary
American Teen
 

Michael says: "I was intrigued to see this documentary focusing on the lives of teens today that has been the subject of much praise and controversy on the festival circuit. Burstein spent a year immersed in an Indiana community, seeking out and spending time with a group of teenagers that embody the well-known archetypes (or perhaps that should read stereotypes) made popular by the film THE BREAKFAST CLUB. Unfortunately, AMERICAN TEEN just didn't work for me, and the more people I talk to, I've been finding that it either clicks with people, or it doesn't, but even the people who love it can see the artifice and manipulation that turned me off of the film.

I'm not against staged scenes, recreations, or scripted sequences in documentaries. They can certainly enhance a non-fiction film and make it more entertaining. The problem with AMERICAN TEEN is that the film isn't really honest with its audiences. As thing progress, it becomes increasingly obvious that some of the scenes are staged, and eventually you begin to believe that the teens being depicted in the film might actually be characters, or 'actors' representing archetypes, rather than kids being represented in a documentary. Burstein has sought out (or created) such blatant stereotypes in order to fulfill a publicity department's dream and tapping into the early-80's John Hughes zeitgeist that I was instantly reminded of James Frey and his fictionalized memoir. To further this feeling the storylines in AMERICAN TEEN follow such startlingly scripted paths that you'd think a team of Hollywood screenwriters were coaching the action.

Those people who I've spoken two who enjoyed the film totally bought into the PRETTY IN PINK/THE BREAKFAST CLUB vibe that TEEN apes even while acknowledging the manipulation. While I was at first perplexed and disappointed as I watched AMERICAN TEEN, as time has passed I'm still perplexed but now somewhat annoyed. The film's marketing is trying to further underscore the character-like nature of the subjects, and the inauthenticity of the film has begun to grate on my nerves even more. 2 cats"