The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

American Teen

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Jacqueline Monahan

American Teen

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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If it’s insight or life-altering revelation regarding the behavior of high school seniors during their final post-secondary year you’re after, you’ll want to follow them around from Homecoming to Graduation Day with hidden cameras and undercover provocateurs to move the action along.

That’s not what happens here.  Director Nan Burstein follows the lives of five Warsaw, Indiana high school seniors for a year, but with a film and sound crew in full view of the principals.  As you can imagine, people act differently when they know they’re being film, and these aren’t just regular people, they are teens, who by definition are narcissistic, raw, emotional and too cool for the room.  The resulting project can be described as a pseudo-documentary at best.

Five discernible “types” are featured.  Megan Krizmanich is the Popular Girl and Student Council President who states early on that she’s always “controlled the school.”  Colin Clemens is the Basketball Jock, leading his team to championships but fretting over scholarship money for college.  Seems the sport is his only hope – that or the Army, as his dad likes to remind him.  Mitch Reinholt is a good-looking Popular Boy who rounds out the featured trio of social alpha dogs.

For contrast (and conflict) there are requisite misfits tossed into the mix.  Jake Tusing is the self-proclaimed Band Geek who is luckless with the opposite sex.  His acne appears, disappears and reappears in shot after consecutive shot, making you wonder how this production’s storyline was spliced together.  Female counterpart and Artsy Oddball Hannah Bailey dreams of leaving the small town for San Francisco, where she believes her artistic quirkiness will be appreciated.

The five storylines converge, separate and intertwine as the school year progresses.  Colin’s athletic prowess is the source of his greatest pressure, and win/lose game sequences illustrate his resulting angst or jubilation.  Megan does not like being overruled by the rest of the student council on some unnamed issue so her solution is to toilet paper the fellow council member’s home with the aid of some popular clique co-horts.  Her only regret (and her dad’s) is getting caught.  We can see where she gets it from.  Megan also runs a campaign to ruin a female friend’s reputation on the Internet because she dared to date Megan’s best male friend.

Poor Jake wants a girlfriend badly but puts himself down at every turn and approaches peers as if knows he doesn’t belong among them.  He accepts his own perceived failure too easily, inadvertently attracting it.  To make matters worse, his skin condition improves and deteriorates so rapidly, you’ll wonder if he’s a Proactiv testimonial or a leprosy victim.

Hannah’s boy troubles and misunderstood originality make her seem sympathetic at first.  Something in the way she smiles underscores a calculated knowingness that alienated me early on.  Her brief association with Mitch from the popular clique results in a text message breakup that I wondered how the camera captured so spontaneously.  The scene starts with Hannah resting face down on a couch when a text message comes in; she shows the camera.  You wonder how the camera caught this moment.  Was it filming her as she napped?  Did it happen off-camera and was then re-created by the director?  American Teen is filled with questions like that.

Of course, issues of peer pressure, college prestige, social acceptance and suitable liaisons swirl around the chosen quintet and the mild drama is only escalated by the camera, which is not ignored, but played to.  Even so, the kids are boringly normal, and when Megan reveals a family secret late in the film, there’s surprise that the resident mean girl has been touched by any type of tragedy, so one-note has her “character” been depicted.

Parents and teachers are so incidental as to be almost vestigial appendages to their charges.  They are included as mouthpieces for warnings, reminders and examples of what is to be expected should one expect to live in Warsaw, Indiana for the rest of one’s life.  No wonder everyone’s off to college with a vengeance almost bordering on desperation.

American Teen would be more appropriately titled Middle Class, Midwestern, White Bread American Teen.  You’d surely arrive at a phenomenally different portrait of personalities and motivations if the project were filmed in the Bronx, South Central L.A., or Atlanta, not nearly as homogenous and lock-step as the Warsaw crowd.  Even a Warsaw, Poland documentary would generate more interest.

I rooted for no one, and was no better or worse for having tuned into these Class of 2006 seniors.  Post-graduation updates about each one were only mildly interesting as the “documentary” never really had me interested in the first place.

On a positive note, American Teen leaves you feeling grateful to have escaped the confines and cliques of high school, whether reminiscing about your own experience or sitting through this compressed, highly contrived version.