My husband and I watched the documentary American Teen last week.
It is best described as a classic teen movie— think Breakfast Club meets Some Kind of Wonderful meets several other John Hughes films—come to life. It even ends with a prom scene!
The camera followed several kids through their senior year at a small Midwestern high school and there are definitely some stereotypes at work: the Geek, the Jock, the Prom Queen, and, my personal favorite/alter ego, the Weirdo. The movie promo even has the kids posed like the original 80s Breakfast Club poster.
The weirdo, Hannah, is the every-woman that many adults who thought they were misfits in high school can totally relate to. Especially me. Hannah is way too creative and odd for her small town. If she had just grown up in a larger city, she probably would have fit in just fine hanging out with the other artists/actors/musicians and kids who wear little makeup or have blue hair. But in her town, Hannah thinks she is a complete outcast.
I found myself intensely rooting for Hannah as the film progressed. I swooned over her hunky mainstream jock boyfriend. I totally understood her feelings of “what is someone so hot doing with plain ol’ me?” Just like Hannah, I had no idea that I was even halfway cute back in high school. And I certainly couldn’t fathom why anyone even moderately attractive would have any interest in me.
Then there was the Prom Queen. I don’t know if the editors manipulated the footage for dramatic impact or if she evoked some long-lost teenage rage, but I found myself rooting against the bitchy princess just as much as I rooted for the artsy outcast. I am loathe to admit that I seriously hoped the Prom Queen wouldn’t get into Notre Dame as punishment for her evil ways—the worst being emailing topless photos of a “friend” around the planet and spray painting the word “fag” on a prom committee nemesis’s window.
But we all know that the Mean Girls never get what’s coming to them in real life. That only happens in Lindsay Lohan movies.
Mean Girls grow up to become sexy pharmaceutical sales reps and marry rich doctors so they can yell at their Spanish speaking nannies for not giving the kids the right brand of organic sunflower seed butter. The bitchy princess got into Notre Dame, after we learned about another twist that I won’t spoil just yet.
The other kids were sweet, charming, and awkward, as expected.
The only annoying part of the whole film was the bizarre animation sequences inserted at odd intervals. Each main teen features in a cruddy video game-like dream sequence that appears to be the producers’ own fantasy of the teen’s inner monologue. These cartoons are jarring and distracting, almost as if the filmmakers didn’t trust the story enough to stand on its own.
All in all, I’m planning on making my girls watch American Teen as a cautionary tale when they hit puberty. Just for the topless emailing scene. I want to scare them early on into reminding them that anything put on email or a blog or Facebook or whatever will stay out there forever!
Of course by the time that they hit adulthood those sorts of sins may be irrelevant. Just like us Gen X-ers and younger could care less that Obama inhaled (that was the point he said) by the time the kids of today are adults, internet pictures of bongs and boobs may just be part of everyone’s resume. Damn, I hope not.
Topless photo emailing concerns and goofy animation aside, I highly recommend this film to 30- or 40-somethings who want to re-live teen angst drama, to parents who want a peek into the reality of young adulthood today. And to other young people who are curious to see how your generation is portrayed on film.