Directed by Nanette Burstein
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 101 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: December 21, 2008
Review Date: December 6, 2008
With reality series choking the television schedules day and night, documentaries purporting to show the real lives of everyday people have lost much of their luster. With such debatably real-life programs as The Real World, Laguna Beach, and The Hills where activities, actions, and decisions seem less-than-real and more designed for optimum drama and conflict, watching something like Nanette Burstein’s American Teen is an exercise in suspicion and doubt over its authenticity and closeness to reality. The people are real, but their actions and the actions of others seem a bit pat, and the filmmaker herself seems to have no comment on the subjects of her movie nor any insight into what makes these teenagers’ lives any more interesting or worthy of study than the others surrounding them or, indeed, of audiences themselves during their own teen years.
The film follows five teenagers during their senior year in high school in Warsaw, Indiana. The director has chosen archetypal subjects for the documentary: the most popular girl (Megan Krizmanich), the star basketball player (Colin Clemens), the band nerd (Jake Tusing), the artistic individualist (Hannah Bailey), and the heartthrob (Mitch Reinholt). We follow the ups and downs of their love lives, their desperation to earn admittance to various colleges, and the usual “high drama” that close friends perpetuate upon themselves with their jealousies, teasing, gossiping, and pranks. There are lots of tears, anguish over major issues like prom dates and the big championship game, and all of the other highlights and heartaches of any school year.
To liven up the proceedings (especially in light of having five subjects who are not among the most articulate teens on the planet) the director has inserted some animated sequences at moments of strongest feelings of helplessness or indecision (Jake taking on his rival in a computer style action game, for example, or Hannah in CGI mode as the humiliated loser in love). These intrusions on the real world scenarios of these youngsters are about the only moments where the director seems to make artistic stabs at representing the kids’ problems as anything unique to the world rather than showing that these disappointments, humiliations, and desires are a part of every teen’s life especially as they begin to see a light at the end of the high school tunnel.
Though many people will likely find the nerdy Jake’s endless search for love the most compelling of the film’s five stories and Megan’s often selfish and spiteful sense of entitlement (even with a horrific family tragedy that haunts her) the most distasteful of the teens‘ behaviors, the most surprising lapses in the film occur with the downplaying of Mitch’s story and the almost complete ignoring of Hannah’s true friend Clark who’s by her side in good times and bad and seems an infinitely more interesting person than several of the teens selected for examination. End title cards written by the five young people catch us up on the next two years of their lives further enforcing the idea that no matter how difficult and trying the high school years are, they can be survived and serve as launching pads to futures of endless possibilities.
Filmed with high definition cameras, the movie is framed at 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Though sharpness is excellent (you’ll see every acne pimple and scar) and flesh tones superb, there are occasional shots that are affected with obvious aliasing, and the picture flattens out in moments of low light where details get swallowed up in the dark shadows. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is expectedly front heavy with very little sound seeping into the rear channels apart from some music at various functions (Battle of the Bands, a semi-formal dance, the senior prom). The subwoofer is particularly underutilized, not even coming to life during the several basketball games complete with screaming fans, blaring bands, and the stomping of feet to generate team spirit.
“Pop Quiz: Cast Interviews” is a 4-minute series of questions asked the five students, none of which generates much thoughtful response from the now young adults. It’s presented in 4:3.
There are six deleted scenes which can be viewed individually or in one 9-minute grouping. They are presented in nonanamorphic letterbox.
There are ten excerpts in nonanamorphic letterbox called “Hannah Blogs” in which star Hannah Bailey gives her views on life and love, all of which seem to have been deleted from the film, possibly a tangent of Hannah’s story the director decided not to follow through with in the finished film. They can be viewed separately or in one 18 ¾-minute clump.
Five character trailers serve as theatrical trailers for the film. Once again, they can be viewed separately or in one 5 ½-minute bunch. All are nonanamorphic letterbox.
The disc offers previews for The Duchess, Defiance, and Ghost Town.
If one is drawn to documentaries of everyday teens doing their things, American Teen will likely be welcomed with open arms. I found the scenarios a bit familiar and not especially compelling despite the director’s sometimes inventive way of presenting their stories.