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American Teen takes the reality-TV craze to the big screen. Director Nanette Burstein premise was that all the oddball teen comedies and dramas we’ve grown up watching (like Breakfast Club or Animal House) are based on some shared reality that all high school student face. After searching a number of towns, she settled on a small town in Indiana and followed five students around every day for their whole senior year. The film invites us to enter the lives of these strangers, people we probably wouldn’t normally meet or care about, to see how their experience is similar or different from our own.
Surprisingly (or maybe not), the lives of these students reflect the same type of stereotyped characters we’ve seen in cinema for years. There is Colin Clemens, the jock, who is the star of the town’s basketball team and is relying on a basketball scholarship to avoid his only alternative—the army. We also meet Megan Krizmanich, the popular girl who is wealthy, beautiful, and feeling lots of family pressure to get accepted to Notre Dame where her father and siblings went for college. There is also Hannah Bailey, the artsy girl who is a beautiful misfit with her liberal atheist views in this conservative Christian town. She dreams of moving to San Francisco to study film, but first she needs to not get expelled from school. There is Mitch Reinholt, the school heartthrob who is interested in Hannah, but worries about how she will click with his group of friends. Finally, there is Jake Tusing, the shy loner with a greasy face who is socially awkward with everyone, not just girls.
Since every day of their senior year was filmed, one can only imagine how difficult is must have been for the director to make choices on what to keep and lose (though lots of deleted scenes exist on the DVD). The heavily edited narrative does a good job keeping the story interesting with the constant drama of high school relationships and pressures, but we also unfortunately fail to learn anything new about today’s generation of youth.