Narrative Review American Teen Directed by: Nanette Burstein Cast: Hannah Bailey, Colin Clemens, Geoff Haase, Megan Krizmanich, Mitch Reinholt Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: PG-13
High school is hard enough. Having a camera in your face, going along for the ride can't help. The kids of Warsaw Community High School in Warsaw, Indiana have been given center stage in this documentary by Burstein (On the Ropes, The Kid Stays in the Picture).
Burstein has managed to find all the necessary cliques roaming the high school halls. There's Hannah; the smart moody misfit. Megan; the popular, demanding rich girl. Colin; the star athlete with pressure on his shoulders. Mitch; the dreamboat. Jake; the social outcast.
This alone is the main problem with the film. While it's entertaining and well beyond the MTV style reality shows, in the analyzation of these kids, it's reinforcing the cliques.
Following the high schoolers through their senior year gives us a glimpse of their lives ... if someone is trying to capture it. I have no idea if Burstein staged any scene, but it sure felt like it. Geoff, the awkward pimple-faced teen says he wishes his life was a video game, it's like he was handed the line to read. Then, his animated character is stuck having acne. Kick a kid while he's down, huh?
The high school year has the usual drama, the basketball season, where to go for college, prom and of course all the relationships.
I am all for documentaries, but there is something about high school that should remain removed. There is too much pain, joy and change to be captured on film in less than two hours. Instead we get villains like Megan, who should have been in therapy instead of given a showcase to prove how mean and vindictive she can be.
I was interested, but always kept thinking about what might have been different if there weren't cameras present. Would Hannah have refused school for weeks on end, or wanted to head West if there wasn't this built in audience watching her? Did Jake utilize the camera to try and get dates? And would his prom date said yes, if there was no opportunity for her 15 minutes? I'm not cynical, simply relieved that cameras weren't following me around at the age of 17.
There is something different here than all of those MTV dating/reality shows. Those people are already gone, lost to the world of reality's unreality. This is Warsaw, and from the looks of it, they weren't ready.
Any film that can keep me intrigued and an odd combination of anxious/annoyed has done it's job well, it just isn't the job Burstein wanted. Her goal was to film an authentic senior year of high school. Instead she showed that it's almost an impossibility.
Overall Score: 5 out of 10