AMERICAN TEEN (****) - Directed by Nanette Burstein.
The best teen drama of the decade. Maybe that's because it's a documentary cut together like a John Hughes movie.
Yes, Virginia, high school is still like you remember it. Your social cliques, your awkwardness, your pressures, your joys, your failures, your fleeting friendships and crushes, and your sense of impending doom or release when graduation comes. All there. All here.
It focuses on four seniors at a small Indiana high school. They introduced as cliches, and then we see them fleshed out into real people. There's Hannah, the artsy rebel; there's Jake, the band geek; there's Colin, the basketball star; and there's Megan, the popular mean girl. Fifth kid Mitch (handsome jock) is thrown in there, so there can be five like The Breakfast Club, but it's really about the four.
It's amazing how much frank footage Burstein was able to gleem. These kids don't seem to care they're being filmed, like everyone's life is its own reality show. Particularly Megan, who does some cruel things in this movie that surely inspired some nasty retaliatory posts on her MySpace page.
I was rooting for each kid, especially as you learn more about their personal lives and what may have shaped them this way. I wanted Megan to recognize how hurtful her behavior was. (In a fiction movie, she'd end up with punch poured on her head at prom, and that would be that.) I wanted Colin to get that basketball scholarship. I wanted to Jake to finally figure out how to talk to a girl. I wanted Hannah to find some happiness that wasn't related to today's boyfriend.
Some of it feels staged, but I was moved by the plights of these kids, and as this chapter closed on their lives, I wanted to just know that they're all okay. Call it the beauty of using real people.