American Teen is a deep yet fun documentary. Check it out!
American Teen, the latest documentary from Nanette Burstein (The Kid
Stays in the Pictures / On the Ropes) is equally fascinating and
moving. It follows the senior year of four High School students in
Warsaw, Indiana. Burstein and her crew chronicle the lives of the
students closely, capturing rare moments of beauty, truth, and doubt.
Although I really liked the film, it took me a while to get into it. It
starts on their first day of school, and when we're first introduced to
the main subjects, they seem cliché. You have the basketball jock
(Colin Clemens), the popular girl (Megan Krizmanich), the artistic,
liberal girl (Hannah Bailey), and the self-professed nerd (Jake
Tusing). I'm watching a documentary about High School and they're
focusing on stereotypical teens? Great. After a while, however, I
realized that there's so much more to these people than meets the eye.
Along those lines, I was interested in Colin Clemens' story, especially
with regards to his father. His father is very up-front about the fact
that he can't afford to put Colin through college after he graduates
from High School. He basically says that he has two options. The first
is to get a scholarship from basketball, and the second is to join the
Army. You'd expect Colin's father to be overbearing, pushing Colin to
do well in basketball, but he isn't. I was impressed with the love he
showed throughout the film. It was very uplifting and genuine.
As a documentary, it is indeed quite an impressive undertaking. I heard
that they ended up filming over 1,000 hours of footage over a 10-month
period of time. Nanette Burstein said in an interview that they had
other subjects, but due to different problems, etc. they ended up with
only four. I think it worked out well in the end. I'm not sure if I
could have handled watching a documentary involving that many people. I
felt like I knew each person individually by the end of the film and
felt sorry to see them go.
At times it seemed like Burstein was waiting for the fantastic to
occur, to be ready to capture it on film. When those moments do come,
they really are awesome and penetrating. There are moments when I felt
embarrassed, as if I were reading a friend's diary or personal letter.
In those moments, the façade is pulled back and you see glimpses of
real people in real life situations. Those moments helped quell my
questions about how aware they are of the cameras recording their every
move. I'm sure some of what was on-screen was a show, but underneath it
all they seem very honest and open.
The film is largely made up of filmed instances in their lives, b-roll
of their surroundings, and interviews with each individual. Sometimes
scenes of computer animation, which I didn't think worked, would
accompany these interviews. I thought that they successfully helped to
convey visually what each person was talking about, but it really took
me out of the experience of watching a film.
This film reminded me of "7-Up", an on-going series by Michael Apted.
Starting in 1964, they documented the lives of seven-year-old British
students from differing backgrounds and asked them what they thought
about government, their future, etc. They have continued to get
together with the same subjects every seven years. The last segment,
49-Up, was release in 2005. Both "7-Up" and American Teen show us
different economic perspectives and backgrounds.
American Teen is a great fly-on-the-wall experience. Looking at the
different lives of these students I see parts of myself in each one of
them. There's a lot to learn from observing others; the decisions they
make and the ones they don't.
I hope Nanette Burstein takes note of Michael Apted and decides to do a
follow-up to American Teen several years from now. That would be
14 of 22 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?