American Teen

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Review byMatthew Turner4/03/2009

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 95 mins

A hugely enjoyable documentary with likeable characters and familiar, but no less compelling storylines, though you do wonder just how much of it was staged for the cameras.

What's it all about?
Directed by documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays In The Picture), American Teen follows four high school students over the course of their senior year in the predominantly white, middle class, Midwestern town of Warsaw, Nebraska. The students include: wannabe filmmaker and arty misfit Hannah Bailey, who plunges into depression when she's dumped (via text) by good looking, popular Mitch Reinholt; video game obsessed band geek Jake Tusing, who spends most of the film looking for a girlfriend; basketball star Colin Clemens, whose entire college career hinges on his performance in the upcoming big game; and popular Mean Girl Megan Krizmanich, who manipulates her friends and seems all-powerful, but is secretly terrified she won't get into the family university.

The Good
Burstein filmed over 1,000 hours of footage and discarded several other characters in the process (which is why Hannah's male best friend gets such short shrift), but her efforts have paid off, because she seems to have captured every high school drama imaginable. As a result there are hook-ups, break-ups, make-ups, betrayals, scandals, family tragedies and moments of both joyous triumph and heartbreaking despair.

The breakthrough star of the film is undoubtedly lovely Hannah Bailey and Burstein seems to slightly privilege her story over the other characters. This means that although you desperately root for Hannah, you also end up wishing you knew a bit more about Megan, Jake and Colin.

The Bad
The main problem with the film is that several scenes are obviously staged for the cameras: both sides of a phone conversation; several people shown receiving an email; and even two characters having an illicit rendezvous – if you were going to cheat on the star of a documentary, would you really bring the camera crew along?

Worth seeing?
Flaws aside, American Teen is a hugely enjoyable documentary that's frequently funny and ultimately moving. Highly recommended.

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American Teen
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Content updated: 24/03/2019 13:51

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