I’m sure many of you have heard of American Teen, even if you didn’t know it was being released any time soon. It was the documentary that followed five high school seniors, and was filmed in Warsaw, IN in 2006. Many thought e film went by the wayside because it hadn’t been talked about for the longest time, but it made its surprise return. Although not a big return considering most didn’t even hear about it coming back. Basically Teen chronicles the senior year of five stereotypical students: the jock, the popular girl, the band geek, the misunderstood artist, and the cute boy. Their lives and interactions between each other push the movie along as each of their stories become progressively more complicated further into the year and movie. There has been some speculation about this complexity though. Some students who were at the Warsaw Community High School have come out saying the filmmaker pushed the students to create extra drama or to act a certain way. Whether this is true or not I do not know, all I can say is that it makes for one entertaining film.
What the filmmaker, Nanette Burstein, tries to get at is for you to figure out which of these students you were in high school and to be able to apply your high school life to these same students. When watching this film, I was able to pick out people I went to high school with and see them in these same roles as sports star, the outcast, etc. That is one of the biggest things this film has going for it. Identifying with these different characters, whether personally or by association, is easy. The film also made a strong point at showing that all people from all walks of life have hardships. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, popular or unpopular, athletic or clumsy; everyone has similar fears just in varying degrees.
On the flip side, some parts in the film do seem contrived. Artistic liberties were definitely taken because the “outcasts” were often seen walking alone in the school even though it’s between classes, so others should be populating the hallways. Some of the situations also feel fake at times because of the way people acted on camera. Whether this was pushed by the director or created by the individual, it is hard to tell, which raises some questions.
All in all, the film was quite good. The students are entertaining to watch as their lives unfold. And the additional perk this film has by being shot in proximity to us makes it all the more interesting. It was interesting watching places I have seen or use to frequent on the silver screen. It really brought things down to a stronger level of reality. American Teen hits a sweet spot right here in the crossroads of America. 3½ Stars
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