Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not another teen movie!

Last night I went to one of those free test screenings that are rampant in Pasadena (it's funny - we were commenting that people complain that Christians have no voice in Hollywood, but in fact, all these test screening audiences are like 10% Fuller people or more). I always consider it my responsibility to let you fine folks know what I've seen and how I liked it.

I am very pleased to report that the film I saw was wonderful and likely to be a runaway hit this year along the lines of, oh I don't know, whatever documentaries have been popular lately. And it was a documentary, but you almost couldn't tell. It's called American Teen, and it took Sundance by storm, and as soon as they get it in theaters you should get your butt in a seat. The title of my post notwithstanding, it's completely worth your time - you'll laugh, cry, and enjoy the extra features (lots of funky animation, e.g.) that make it rather unique among docs.

So here's what we learn from following the lives of four teens in their senior year at Warsaw high in Indiana: cliches are alive and well - in fact, they are born of real life. I can't tell you how many after-school special plots were enacted, yet it was all really happening. We actually got in an interesting discussion afterwards about whether people act this way because they've seen so many movies that they think this is how teens are supposed to act, or are the movies based on how teens actually act and when we see it documented it looks like a movie script but it's really real life? It's a strange postmodern trip into the meta-documentary/teen movie.

When I say it's cliche I don't mean it's boring or trite - quite the opposite. The teens they profile fit four stereotypes perfectly: the jock, the queen bee/mean girl, the wild artsy chick, and the band geek (although in fairness to band geeks, this guy goes way beyond the norm into a special circle of geek hell). But despite the fact that they act as we expect, they are not cardboard cutouts. When we learn of some of the pain in the mean girl's life, and see her vulnerability, we begin to sense why she's the way she is. But they all have pain and they are tremendously open about it. They all have parents who are pushing them towards particular post-school plans. They all have ups and downs with boyfriends/girlfriends/friend-friends (including a great, too-short relationship between a jock and an outcast that couldn't have been scripted more sweetly - or heartbreakingly). But I don't even want to tell you about the other stuff b/c it's so fun to be surprised (that really happens??) each time you see something that you thought only happened to you, or conversely, you've seen a million times in movies - and on Saved by the Bell - to the point where you thought it couldn't possibly be real. Each life is remarkably fascinating and three-dimensional for having started in such an "overdone" place. I was drawn in by their stories and struggles. It's like a real-life John Hughes movie.

I had major flashbacks during most of the scenes at the high school - Midwestern architecture just never changes I guess! The basketball and football games, the hallways, the dance - it all looked just like my school 15 years ago! I could smell the sweat and my gut was responding with all these visceral emotions from those years. It was totally cool. I can't believe how little high school has changed.

But there are some differences: kids text a lot, that's what I learned. Made me want to forbid my baby a cell phone, ever. They'll be on the band bus and texting each other instead of conversing! How weird. I don't get that.

Overall, I simply loved this movie. It was a total pleasure to watch, and in the end, when they all head off into their lives, you are just rooting for them. You don't know what happens next, but that's OK - high school is over, and that's the point. We all get to move on and write our stories from there - but while we're in school, it turns out, we mostly all are part of the same few tales.

Look out for it. Especially if you went to school in the Midwest - you'll relate on so many levels. If they'd just included a theater person it would have been perfect, but you can't do it all. Maybe for American Teen 2.

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