American Teen DVD Review

Cover Art and Menus: 6/10
The cover for American Teen does its best to show each of the five main characters as they are supposed to be perceived.  You have the jock, the prom queen, the geek, the rebel, and the supposed heart-throb.  As if you were not clever enough to pick up on those assigned roles for this documentary, they are labeled on the back of the DVD.  The cover seems to be a cross between a Gap add and a Napoleon Dynamite cover, with doodles of stars and lightning bolts.

The menu is the same: a yellow background with the same shots of the kids as the cover, with more doodles.  It is a bit too obvious that they are trying to market this as a Napoleon Dynamite type of movie, but I just don’t see it.

Features: 4/10

  • Pop Quiz: Cast Interviews – The pop quiz is a short feature with the cast about how their school was chosen, and how they were selected to be in the film itself.  This was an interesting look at how these 5 were selected out of apparently 150 kids who were interested in being in the documentary.  Apparently 15 kids were actually filmed, but these 5 were chosen to be in the final film.  This feature was relatively short at about 4 minutes in length.
  • Hannah Blogs –Hannah is the “rebel” of the group, and a burgeoning filmmaker, and it seems as if director Nannete Burnstein almost favors Hannah in the movie.  Hannah’s blogs are short video essays that were given during the making of the film.  She covers a wide variety of issues, and many would not fit with the movie itself.  While Hannah is probably the most dramatic of the cast, she seems a bit all over the place, and I am not so sure that her label of “rebel” is all that appropriate.
  • Character Trailers –There are 5 trailers that were created to promote the film, each focusing on a separate cast member.  These are pretty forgettable, and seem to further try to stereotype each of the cast into their narrow label.
  • Deleted Scenes – The deleted scenes that are included cover a range of topics, but are appropriately left out of the final film.  One of the better scenes focuses on Hannah talking on the phone to her father about the possibility of gettingexpelled from school, and how that will effect her life.  It is a serious moment, but it just adds to the fact that while the movie portrays Hannah as a rebel, she seems to fit the role of drama queen instead.

The Movie: 6/10
American Teen is supposed to be a documentary about 5 high school kids who each nicely fit into some of the stereotypes that we all think of when we look at high school kids.  There are several problems with this approach, including the fact that not all kids fall into these neatly labeled groups.  We are supposed to have jocks, prom queens, geeks, heart-throbs, and rebels at every school in the United States apparently.  While this may in fact occur sometimes, not everyone falls squarely into those categories, and this documentary does its best to pigeonhole these 5 kids into those roles, regardless of what they might actually be.

I also question just how much of the movie is “reality.”  I know, I may be a bit cynical after having been subjected to the modern “reality” shows of late, with their manufactured drama and all, but a lot of this movie feels a bit unrealistic to me, and perhaps embellished.  Having said that, American Teen is a tight package, if not somewhat jaded view of life as a teenager in a Midwestern town.

American Teen follows 5 teenagers as they wind their way through life at a Warsaw, Indiana high school.  As stated, each is set up to fall into a category that seemingly is ripped directly from the Breakfast Club.

Colin Clemens is the jock of the school, with supposedly the entire schools reputation riding on his ability to carry the basketball team to glory.  Having gone to college in Indiana, I can attest to the fact that the entire town was probably riding on the team doing well, as basketball is a religion to these people.  Colin is also trying to find a way to make his dreams of playing basketball in college a reality, as money is tight, and he needs to find a scholarship to allow him to further his education.

Geoff Haase neatly portrays the geek.  Geoff is in band and seemingly has no skills with the ladies, even though his one goal in life is to have a girlfriend.  We are shown that Geoff loves video games, and has bad acne, as if to cement his role as the nerd.  Geoff is shown awkwardly approaching girls, until he finally finds a female who he starts a relationship with, only to have the camera show us that she (almost blatantly) is scheming to be with someone else.  In one of the more questionable scenes, his girlfriend literally arranges a meeting with another guy while with Geoff, and then not only does she meet up with the guy to swim at a pool, but she immediately embraces the new “friend.”

Hannah Bailey is the so called rebel, who seems a bit wild and free, as if she could care less what anyone thinks of her, which is exactly the opposite of what she demonstrates on film.  Hannah proceeds to be dumped by two boys in the film, and with both she is so devastated that she almost ceases to cope.  When dumped by the “love of her life” she misses school for weeks, stating that she just can’t deal with people looking at her and talking behind her back.  Then she falls in love with Mitch, a jock type basketball player who is presented as the “heart throb” of the movie.  At this point we get a little bit of a Pretty in Pinkclique crossover story, where it (shockingly) ends up that the relationship just won’t work.  Mitch, who generally seems like a nice guy, falls for Hannah and is supposedly able to be himself, before the “popular” group seems to force him to move on.  Hannah is devastated when Mitch breaks up with her via text message.  Tackiness aside, Hannah again is heartbroken.

Last but definitely not least is Megan Krizmanich, who is stuck in the prom queen role, which she seemingly embraces.  Megan is rich, decent looking, and according to the other students, the queen of the school.  (I don’t think she even won prom queen, even though the box art calls her one.)  Megan is really more of an immature, dare I say, bitch.  She controls those around her, gets jealous when other girls get close to her best male friend, even though she is supposedly repulsed at the idea of going out with him, and she does her best to belittle those who don’t agree with her.  At one point she mass e-mails a topless photo of one of her friends to the entire school, before calling the girl on the phone to call her a slut.  At another point Megan spray paints the word “fag” on the window of a guys house who voted against her prom idea.  Megan’s main issue in the movie is getting admitted to Notre Dame, where almost her entire family has gone to college.  Seemingly forgetting about the whole “legacy” admissions, the film makes it out like Megan would never get in, and when she finally does, life is good.  (Notre Dame must be so proud!)

American Teen is a decent documentary about teen life, but to me it was a bit forced and a bit overdone.  I know there are different groups in high school, but not everyone needs to be pigeonholed.  I am not a fan of shows like the Hills, or many of the so-called MTV reality shows, but to me this is much of the same.  It was an interesting look at high school days, but I just didn’t really connect with any of the characters like I should have.

Audio & Video: 6/10
The standard DVD was decent looking and had okay audio.  It was presented in wide screen, and had 5.1 Surround Sound, but I really didn’t notice either the sound or the video all that much.  That is not to say that either was bad, but to me they didn’t leave an impression.  Obviously this was a documentary, and not a big screen epic film, so I didn’t expect either to be mind blowing, and they were not.

Value: 5/10
This is a rental if anything.  I would not watch American Teen again.  It just did not really do that much for me.  Perhaps if I was a teenager, things would be different, but I am not.  This is simply a view into the lives of 5 struggling teenagers, and for me I would rather watch struggling teenagers in a hysterical story (Breakfast Club) than view this again.

Overall Score 5/10