Ecclesiastes 1:9 â€“ â€œWhat has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.â€ This was never so true than when defining human nature. Especially that of High School teens. In the new documentary â€œAMERICAN TEENâ€ writer/director Nanette Burstein goes into the heartland of Americaâ€™s educational system to create a film that is moving, funny and most of all terrifyingly familiar. All of us, no matter the generation, can look back on the high school years as either the greatest of days or the worst of nightmares. And for many it was a little of both. As you will discover in this movie, not a lot has changed. There are still the main classifications of clubs that we all recognize and sympathize with. Band Geeks unite!!
In this true life film Nanette follows the lives of 5 High School seniors from a small town in Indiana as they prepare for graduation, sweat over scholarships and try to get a date for the prom. The Geek (Jake), The Jock (Colin), The Rebel (Hannah), The Heartthrob (Mitch) and the Princess (Megan). They each have goals for their senior year and plan to make something of their lives. As you watch them interact with each other and those in their hallways it will make you conjure up memories that you thought had been long since buried. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all fit into one of these groups. And it might not be the one you always thought you were in. At times it made me long for the fun, excitement and fellowship of high school and seconds later it would make me thank God that I never have to go through those years again.
What amazed me the most was how much things havenâ€™t changed since the mid 80â€™s and I am sure other generations will agree. Sure, there is a lot more gadgetry and texting and email to help make your classmates world a living hell but the pettiness and jealousy and pressure have not changed at all. If anything it seems far worse. I found myself loathing some of these characters for who they represented to me. It was like I was 17 again and wanting to see them get put in their place. But this is not simply a film of peer pressure. It is also a sobering look at realistic pressures of life and college and success that weigh so heavy on the shoulders of many kids. It helped me in some ways to see how the other half lived. Those I thought had it so easy, or those who I envied their popularity, maybe they didnâ€™t have it so grand after all.
My two favorite people in the film are Jake and Hannah. They are definitely the ones I most relate to. I found myself hoping that fate had penned for each of them a wonderful ending to their scripts. I wanted to see them succeed and find some happiness. Or at least discover what was inside of each of them that make them so special. Nanette does an incredible job of capturing the soul and spirit of each of her 5 subjects. You see the moments in their life that define them and she has a way of getting them to open up to her which makes this film that much more moving. You will laugh a lot and you will cheer even more. But along the way you will also shed a few tears either in reliving a past memory or in reaction to the life you are witnessing.
American Teen is rated PG-13 for some strong language, sexual material, some drinking and brief smoking-all involving teens. This is real life and my hope would be that every parent out there would take some time to go see this with their teen. No matter their age. It could be the one time you actually get to see what your kid may be going through. It might make you want to hug them extra hard, or ground them for the rest of their life. I am not sure if those who are still in school or recently out will get as much out of it as those of us who have been out for a long length of time but it is worth seeing by all. I give American Teen 5 out of 5 diplomas. It is certainly the Breakfast Club of real life.
“Matt is a member of the North Texas Film Critics Association (NTFCA) and hosts a daily online talk show along with a weekend radio feature, The Mungles on Movies, with his wife Cindy. For additional reviews, interview clips and great DVD giveaways, visit the website www.mungleshow.com”