American Teen (2008)
The Sundance hit “American Teen” may be a success amongst most teenagers but I would find it hard to believe anyone over the age of 16 would actually care to sit through this film. Most film critics claim it to be scripted. They have accused director Nanette Burstein of giving the documentary a sensationalized feel. Maybe that is true but by the time the credits rolled that was the least of my problems with the film. The main problem for me is that aside from one girl named Hannah, its other subjects do and say little to keep your attention. You would think out of the thousands of high school kids in Warsaw, Nanette Burstein could have found some more interesting.
Director Nanette Burstein focused too much time in selecting students who resembled characters from “The Breakfast Club.” There’s the Ally Sheedy like outsider Hannah who is moody and longs for life in the big city where she can study film making. Than there’s the jock like basketball star Colin, the romantic geek Jake, think Anthony Michael Hall. Finally let’s not forget the Molly Ringwald rich girl / mean-girl princess named Megan. Hannah struggles with her everyday fears and depression. Colin needs a basketball scholarship, Megan copes with her sister’s suicide, and Jake needs a girlfriend. The problem is outside Hannah the kids don’t really make me feel much except for feeling manipulated. Some can say that Werner Herzog made a career out of blurring the line between reality and a film maker’s reality. Whatever the case this film was incredibly dull. Did I really need a filmmaker to show me that a teenage girl could be bitchy or that a pimple faced high school geek could have trouble finding a girlfriend?
Now put aside it’s subjects and let’s view it approach. In reducing hours of footage into a cohesive film, a documentarian can turn a person into a hero or an enemy. They can make you believe in someone or something and change your opinions and views. The trick to doing it right is to figure out a way to make those elements somehow seem real and organic. Observation changes that which is being observed so obviously when you put a camera in a high school, the high school looses its realism. But the crime committed here becomes clear early on. The director painfully seeking something of interest to document clearly needs to stage events in order to have something to bring to the cutting room. Filming reality is a tricky thing but in this case it is bad filmmaking and worse faut.