American Teen [DVD]

By Davin Sgargetta

Alright, so growing up in an American high school isn’t easy — if the countless TV shows, films and books on this topic saturating the media landscape over the past few decades haven’t already shown you this…

We all know about the pressures to fit in, to be noticed, to be wanted, to be revered and to be accepted. And at first glance, I wondered where the need was to explore this issue of teen angst, social maneouvring and high school life in the USA in yet another film.

Despite this, the documentary film American Teen manages to explore this subject with an unmistakable freshness and honesty, and with a surprising amount of insight.

”American Teen” follows the lives of five young American seniors (year 12 students) from the town of Warsaw, through 10 months of their final year at highschool.

Director Nanette Burnstein set out to cover all the bases with her subjects: you’ve got the high school jock and resident basketball hero (Colin Clemens) who’s got the weight of the town on his shoulders, as he fights for a college athletic scholarship; student council Vice President and class bitch (Megan Krizmanich) who is hoping to follow in the footsteps of her surgeon father and older siblings by being accepted into Notre Dame; the alternative, rebellious free thinker (Hannah Bailey), who is dying to get out of Warsaw and make it as a filmmaker; the class geek and shy love-fool (Jake Tusing) who wants nothing more than a girlfriend to help him feel accepted; and finally the charming, heartthrob (Mitch Reinholt) who is a jock by reputation but is starting to explore a softer and deeper side of his personality.

Rather than manipulate the thousand plus hours of footage she had to play with in the editing room to fit the usual conflicts and resolutions, Burnstein let these personalities speak for themselves and let these stories play out naturally. And what you really come to appreciate as an observer is that despite the cliques, gangs and social rules, all these kids are a lot more similar than they think.

Of course, a film of this nature is always going to feel the pressure of investigating the usual issues affecting and afflicting this age-group — dating and relationships, the need to fit in, the bitchiness and gossip, the parties, the neglect, the pressure to be somebody — but perhaps above all, it explores the issue of the next step, the big decision of where they plan to be next year and beyond.

If nothing else, ”American Teen” succeeds at showing the pressure kids face as they look towards college, the prospect of being rejected by potential colleges, the pressure of family to go to certain schools, the need for scholarships in families where finances are low, and the need to go to a school where they will ultimately fit in well and succeed.

There are contrived moments and an underlying discomfort as the stories unfold (don’t be surprised if memories come flooding back), but we are talking about 17 year old teenagers. And despite this, you can’t help but be intrigued by these young, developing and often enlightened minds.

”American Teen” seems set out to paint the usual picture but lets the story unfold naturally, and thankfully, life in reality holds more hope than fiction often does, leaving us with an insightful and at times moving picture about finding your own voice.

Extras

Absolutely lousy, Paramount – some brief interviews and deleted scenes?