American Teen
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (6th January 2009).
The Film

On TV there’s an incredibly fine line between documentary television and reality TV; part of this may be snootiness in trying to draw a seemingly artificial line between two products that are virtually the same as they both focus on ‘real life situations and people’ or in other words, non-professional actors who don’t have writers putting words in their mouths. Outside the more academic factor that tries to draw the distinction, it really comes down to a feel where documentary feels natural and constructed in post-production in being taken from the stories captured, while the reality show seems forced and fake; the story arises from a preset mold that the filmmaker casts for rather than captures. “American Teen” (2008) falls deeper into the reailty film label than many others have been able to, as it tries to convince the viewer that it really is a documentary, it comes off as forced and insincere like the dozens of MTV reality programming staples like “The Hills” (2006-Present) but with a kid with acne.

“American Teen” tries to bill itself as a more modern "The Breakfast Club" (1985), following five teens who the film claims fall into the major high school cliques: The Rebel, The Heartthrob, The Jock, The Geek and The Prom Queen (The Heartthrob and the Jock may well as be the same as the Heartthrob is still a big athlete, just less sports obsessed and goofy looking than the teen billed as the Jock). Each of the five go through their own trials and tribulations, the different breakups and boyfriend/girlfriends, all of the angst of the teens along with their different problems at their different zones of high school, even though they’re all about the same middle to upper class social strata.

The basic problem is relating to the characters, their stories and lives seem so stereotypical to the John Hughes mold it feels as if director Nanette Burstein tried far too hard to cast and find teens to fit the type of mold. If “The Breakfast Club” was about engaging the stereotypes to add depth to the characters, “American Teen” brings them back to the realm of superficiality as there’s incredibly little depth that’s provided for the characters for the most part, especially Megan Krizmanich who plays the princess so incredibly well it’s frustrating to see that such people really do exist and really do feel little remorse for their actions, especially as Reinholt goes to spraypaint ‘fag’ on a fellow student body officer’s home after he won a vote to change the prom theme. I’m not sure if I’m more frustrated with how quickly the act is glossed over by the school or the fact that she never really deals with herself in the film. There are attempts to add depth with talking about her family pressure and the death of her sister, but none of these even start to evoke sympathy for this apparently real person.

Yet at the heart of this problem is the problem with the entire documentary. When Megan is brought in before the principal and let go with a slap on the wrist for what could be considered a hate crime or sexual harassment, the principal says she has no history of such acts. What this implicates in my mind is the presence of the camera, no longer is the documentary capturing real life, it’s manufacturing it’s own reality at the most subliminal level by having the cameras in the faces of teens who have essentially auditioned to match their stereotypes, bringing it down to the most base level.

Honestly you’re better off watching a John Hughes movie because the characters are more interesting and the jokes are funnier than real life, which is understandable since he crafted it to be that way. The characters of John Hughes’ 80’s are almost more 3 dimensional than the way the characters in this movie come across, plus there’s no Judd Nelson to be the badass. I can easily believe that the film wasn’t scripted by the director, but it seems prescripted by the conditions leading up to the documentary and the presence of cameras. Though I acknowledge what Burstein was trying to accomplish in engaging the stereotypical cliques in a high school, the more I think about this movie the more frustrating and annoying I find it because of how incredibly basic all of the characters come off and how fake the entire film feels.

Video

The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks clean and crisp on screen, which is good news for the transfer, but for some reason it almost negates the documentary feel of the film as everything seems too crisp and clean, the production values may have actually worked against it as it adds to the uneasy feeling of the whole production being unreal.

Audio

Presented in either English or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, the audio sounds good and it’s another clean transfer, all of the dialogue sounds good and clean, but again suffers from the same unease that the video suffers from. There’s a fairly indie soundtrack to the whole thing, adding to the unreality of the film by creating the feeling of an MTV reality show with the overly hip soundtrack.
Optional subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

The single disc comes with a small collection of extras, including an interviews featurette, some deleted scenes, additional segments, theatrical trailers and bonus trailers.

First up is “Pop Quiz: Cast Interviews” featurette which runs for 4 minutes and 13 seconds, the cast is interviewed more recently talking about how the film was put together, how they were recruited in terms of applying to the movie, an interesting choice that is revealing in the final product. They talk about their current relationship with their cast-mates, an interesting featurette, though really short and could have done with more talking about how they got involved within the documentary.

Next are the deleted scenes, 6 in all, summarized below:

- “The Long Kiss Goodnight” runs for 6 minutes and 36 seconds, Jake drops off his date for the night and they share a kiss after some awkward conversation.
- “Jake on Date Ending in the Long Kiss Goodnight” runs for 2 minutes and 22 seconds, footage from before and after the kiss, more awkward conversation and more interviews.
- “Megan/Geoff Prom Dilemma” runs for 3 minutes and 33 seconds, Megan and Geoff watch porn together, Geoff brings up that it may not be weird that they could hook up.
- “Hannah and Clarke Prom Fiasco” runs for 1 minute and 59 seconds, Clarke gets a call from a girl about going to prom after making a pledge with Hannah to go if they don’t have dates. She gets upset.
- “Hannah Gets Suspended From School” runs for 1 minute and 29 seconds. Hannah calls her Dad and they talk about her being expelled from school.
- “Mitch Gets a Face Mask” runs for 1 minute and 7 seconds, Meagan gives Geoff an exfoliating Face max and the three chat it up about prom.

There’s a series of segments called “Hannah Blogs” segments which are essentially more Hannah-centric deleted scenes from the film where she talks about anything in her life:

- “I Love My Dog” runs for 1 minute and 6 seconds. Hannah raves about her dog as a loving thing and space heater, guesses she’s gay because she loves her female dog more than boys.
- “The Perfect Guy” runs for 1 minute 43 seconds. Hannah describes her perfect boy as a man with the looks of Rupert Grint, but funny like Will Ferrell.
- “High School Insecurities” runs for 1 minute and 37 seconds. Hannah talks about the general awkwardness of high school across social experiences.
- “A Forced Crush” runs for 3 minutes and 40 seconds; here Hannah talks about her ‘forced’ crush on Riley, talking more about boys and relationships and trying to get over her last boyfriend.
- “The Perfect Date” runs for 1 minute and 1 second, Hannah talks about her perfect date which includes bowling, star gazing and laughing.
- “Why I Liked Riley” runs for 1 minute and 7 seconds. Hannah talks about why she fell for Riley, her dog barks at camera.
- “My Dad’s Office” runs for 2 minutes and 32 seconds. Hannah talks about visiting her dad’s office with her friend Clarke, talking about how bizarre it is with all the horns and whistles, much like a ‘big retarded family.’
- “Attachments” runs for 1 minute and 24 seconds, Hannah talks about her susceptibility to Attachments.
- “Finished My Movie” runs for 3 minutes and 2 seconds, Hannah talks about editing and finishing her movie, seems proud of it.
- “San Francisco” runs for 1 minute 38 seconds. Hannah talks about moving to San Francisco to go to school, how amazing the city is, even though she hasn’t ever been there.

There’s also a collection of character theatrical trailers which are exactly as they sound; trailers made specifically surrounding one of the five main characters in the film:

- “Hannah” runs for 1 minute and 3 seconds.
- “Mitch” runs for 1 minute and 4 seconds.
- “Jake” runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds.
- “Megan” runs for 1 minute and 1 second.
- “Colin” runs for 1 minute and 17 seconds.

The bonus trailers include:

- “Defiance” which runs 2 minutes and 5 seconds.
- “The Dutchess” runs 2 minutes and 31 seconds.
- “Ghost Town” runs 2 minutes and 31 seconds.
- “Iron Man” runs for 2 minutes and 31 seconds.
- “Son of Rambow” runs for 2 minutes and 24 seconds.
- “How She Move” runs for 2 minutes and 21 seconds.
- "Tobacco Free California" spot runs 41 seconds.

Overall

The Film: F Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: D- Overall: D+

 


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