These kids these days. Not a helluva lot different from kids back in the John Hughes dark ages when I was a teenager. They want to fall in love, get into college and figure out who they are and who they want to be. Except now there's Instant Messenger, e-mail, text messages and cameras recording and broadcasting it all. Thanks to You Tube, I doubt documentary subjects are the only adolescents having their petty and not-so-petty dramas recorded for posterity.
American Teen, which follows 5 teenagers for their senior year of high school, has been getting a lot of buzz, not only for it's resemblance to The Breakfast Club, but for the satisfaction it provides us ex-teens. We get to look down on the popular, but unlikeable, mean girl Megan and admire the artsy outsider Hannah, the most vulnerable and strongest teen captured on film in years. We know that Jake, the band geek, doesn't need to change, but only needs to wait a few years to meet a woman who'll love him because of his action figure collection, and not in spite of it. Basketball star Colin evokes more sympathy than any of the sportos at my school ever did. If he can't get a basketball scholarship, then he'll have to join the army. The guy actually is playing for his life.
But, as in life, there are always more layers. As determined as Hannah is not to live her parents' life, Megan is equally dead set on following in her father's footsteps. Megan is horrified to think that she might not get into Notre Dame, but it never even occurs to her or anyone around her that she could get in, but decide to go somewhere else. The rich girl with the world at her feet actually chooses to limit her options. I found it hard to feel for the 17-year-old Megan, but my heart goes out to the older Megan who will someday who will wonder what the hell she was thinking, just as all of us do.
The teen's hopes and dreams are rendered in animation, and this only really works for Jake's video game fantasies, probably because he really does think like that. For the others, it falls flat, but that's just a small misstep in an otherwise honest and insightful film.
3 out of 4 stars/cupcakes/boots/whatevers.
You can read my profile of director Nanette Burstein in The Villager (sister publication to Chelsea Now, which also ran the article, as I mentioned last week.