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Winning a place on the guest list to American Teen was not a high priority for me. When I heard the title, I thought it must be a teen movie, and when I read that it was a documentary, I was even less interested. I could not have been more wrong.
This was the first time I've watched a documentary in a cinema, and it was well worth a Monday night. The stories of these five adolescents from Warsaw, Indiana were absolutely compelling, and wonderfully hilarious, as the raucous laughter from a near-empty cinema attested. Nanette Burstein has edited their experiences in their final year of high school with a deft hand, developing a rich, interwoven story well worth telling.
Watching these young Americans over-experience every emotion imaginable was fascinating not only because of the universal comedy of youth, but also because it reminds you just how much better our own education system is. Which is quite an accomplishment when your audience is a cynical old ex-teacher like myself.
American Teen is not ground-breaking or unique, but it is one of those rare pieces of film-making that exemplifies the best of the art form: simple storytelling, with characters that are easy to relate to, an awesome soundtrack, and an image of ourselves. Well worth a Monday night. Or even a Friday. Go see it.
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