American Teen Review
AMERICAN TEEN: On general release from Friday 13th March 2009
Like emailing your boss your STD-results or drunkenly being tricked into drinking your mate’s pee at a party, for the majority of us our teenage years are one of those things that we like to look back on and laugh about.
Even if living through the thing was about as pleasurable as an elbow jab to the jugular.
So it’s to Nanette Burstein’s credit that her latest documentary American Teen manages to capture every significant ‘growing pain’ and emotional car-crash moment that most teenagers inevitably experience, whilst crafting an entertaining and comical narrative that doesn’t have you rocking back and forth, having sparked the onset of Post-Traumatic High School Syndrome.
As stereotypical as it sounds, anyone who has survived into their late teens understands that the high school hierarchy undeniably exists and Burstein wisely decides to follow the lives of 5 very different but reassuringly recognisable character types: the geek, the jock, the popular girl (aka Richbi*ch), the alternative arty girl and the heartthrob.
Even if your own school experience wasn’t so easily definable (or your stubborn inner 13-year old still insists it wasn’t), retrospect allows you to acknowledge and sympathise with certain moments in each of their lives; your first crush, a friend’s betrayal, peer and parental pressure, the widespread overwhelming social ineptitude – we’ve all been there.
Burstein spent one whole year cataloguing the ins and outs of these kids’ lives and, for a film that bills itself as a documentary, it’s initially jarring to see quite how polished the production is. The camera always seems to be in the right spot at the right time to capture all the latest melodramatic developments, and numerous shots – whether they be introspective, longing stares out to water or ceiling down shots of the teens lying on their beds mid-daydream – are not exactly what you’d call ‘natural’.
Any suspicions of this being an MTV Hills-like affair quickly slip away with Burstein’s dedication to addressing every level of the social spectrum and more importantly, her entrancingly inventive animation shorts that intersperse the narrative at key points. Each of these aim to reflect the inner desires and heartaches of each teen, and are stunning in their stylistic and appropriate difference – the geek’s desires are manifested in fantasy videogame CGI, whilst the arty girl’s is a masterclass in Tim Burton-esque stop frame animation.
Ultimately, American Teen is like a Wispa Caramel; enjoyable and progressive, yet reassuringly nostalgic.
Lovin’ the nostalgia trip down teenager lane? Or do you just want to point and laugh at photos of a fat Tori Spelling? Either way, make sure you check out our hee-larious run-down of the Top 8 Generation Defining Teen TV Shows!