Monday, August 04, 2008
American Teen, in Unfocused, Age-Appropriate Ramblings
I've tried to come at American Teen from a couple different directions now. Capsule review? Doesn't fit a documentary all that well, and nothing that I wanted to say about the movie fit into the categories. Sidebar review? Way too brief. So I am turning to the last refuge of the ADD generation: the bullet points.
-- So despite what the (not as clever as it thinks it is) marketing campaign would have you believe, American Teen owes less to The Breakfast Club as it does to the last decade of reality television. That's a value-free judgment, by the way -- in case you haven't noticed, I'm one of those crazy assholes who thinks that reality is a genre with diverse quality just like any other. So with the filmmaker AND the kids being filmed both aware of the reality tropes, there is often an air of staginess to some of the footage. Not all of it -- not even most of it -- but it's those Whitney-and-Lauren-talk-at-Teen-Vogue fake expository moments that do tend to stand out.
-- All that being said, there's a difference between stagy and fake, and a halfway sophisticated audience is going to be able to tell the difference, and that for all its glossy style, American Teen is an authentic look at these kids' lives. Rich at fourfour does a better job than me explaining it, but the point being: don't come at me with fake. My love for Hannah Bailey and Megan Krizmanich and Mitch Reinholt (and my general acceptance of Colin Clemens and Jake Tusing) is not fake.
-- Your own high school experience will probably inform a great deal of how you will take in the characters here. Hannah's awesome in that way that damaged, determined outcasts can be. Megan's awesome in that way that string-pulling social chairs with no regard for others and a mean streak can be. Hannah's the admirable one, but God help me, I think I loved Megan more for her awfulness. It's such a cliche, I know -- the fag's in love with the mean girl. Regina George all over again. But my god, the girl plays puppet-master with her friends, spreads vicious rumors around with glee, and commits hate crimes without remorse, the last of which happens because of her rage over not getting the "Oriental" prom theme she wanted. (!) (!!) (!!!) Thank god she and Hannah were never pitted against each other or else I might have had to choose a side. One of the interesting things about this story -- something you'd never get out of a scripted movie -- is that the mean girl goes after the ones in her own social circle; the ones she can control. We never see her setting her sights much on Hannah, or on Jake at all. Some high schoolers really are just beneath notice.
-- Mitch Reinholt is going to just skate through life, isn't he? Unless he somehow gets involved in a hideous, disfiguring accident. Which HOLY GOD FORBID that should ever, ever happen. Seriously, though, how do you say no to that face? And he promises never to break up via text message again! That's good enough for me, I don't know about you.
-- Hats off to the peripheral characters, too. Megan's little scrunch-faced sidekick and the floppy-haired boy they both want to make out with; Colin's half-terrible, half-wonderful Elvis-impersonating dad; Hannah's awesome Grandma and Grandma's even awesomer friend and their enthusiasm for makeup; Hannah's gay (?) best friend and his lime-green tux and heartbreaking whisper ("You're the best friend I've ever had") that hit me in the place where tears go; Hannah's mom (Hannah really gets all the best side characters) who's got the crazy eyes AND an obsession with sordid tales of small town girls who get kidnapped and raped in big cities (it's a Nancy Grace double-dip!). Even Jake's faithless hussy of a girlfriend who jilts him for a man-boobed rival from the marching band.
-- Maybe my favorite thing about this movie is just how common it is. The most sensational aspect is Hannah's breakdown after she breaks up with a boyfriend. And honestly, even that isn't SO sensationalistic. Beyond that, everything that happens to this kids is so wonderfully, terribly average. Colin's shoot-or-pass basketball dilema. Jake's weirdoness and acne. Megan stressing over getting into Notre Dame. Mitch's peer-pressure problems. I knew these kids, which made it easier to love them.