Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More Growing Up Needed

The makers of the new documentary American Teen would have you believe that their movie is a modern-day Breakfast Club, what with its rip-off poster and references to the classic John Hughes film in its trailer. And sure enough, both films focus on the classic archetypes we know so well: the jock, the brain, the outcast, the princess, etc. But that's where the two films differ: one was an original look at teenage angst and the other is a snapshot of teens that screams "been there/done that."

In director Nanette Burstein's film, we meet five high school seniors in Warsaw, Indiana: Hannah, the misfit; Colin, the jock; Jake, the nerd; Megan, the bitch; and Mitch, the charmer. Their stories and personalities are ones we know all too well, having gone through high school and having watched countless reality shows over the years. The kids don't know life outside Warsaw, so their dramas are all amplified to an expected degree. We see the frustration Megan feels when her choice of prom theme is overruled and the heartbreak of Jake's repeated attempts to find love. There's Colin's struggle to lead his basketball team and earn a scholarship, and Mitch's pursuit of a girlfriend who may put his social standing at risk. And that's why you sort of have to laugh when Hannah's boyfriend dumps her shortly after she rhapsodizes about how she is in a relationship that will actually last beyond high school. The stories are just too predictable.

To Burstein's credit, though, while the students do all fall into their expected storylines, she manages to make you care about some of them. Hannah, in particular, stands out for her determined attempts to leave Warsaw and start a new life. Jake, too, is an endearing personality. But Megan and Colin don't seem to add much new to their respective "types," and all the usual cliches apply (if you don't count Colin's Elvis-impersonating father, that is). So in the end, American Teen is about as generic as its title implies. It's a pleasant two hours, but it's by no means a must-see. I'm giving it a B&ndash.



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