Film Highlight: American Teen

Megan Krizmanich stars in Nanette Burstein's American Teen
courtesy of Paramount Vantage

Nanette Burstein, who made the entertaining Robert Evans documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, spent a year hanging out with a handful of carefully chosen adolescents from the only high school in the small town of Warsaw, Indiana, orthopedic manufacturing capital of the world, in an attempt to deepen the conversation about the horrors of being young in America. Burstein's film seeks to break down the wall between narrative and nonfiction filmmaking—and by the relaxed standards of documentary filmmaking today, it's not especially remarkable that the kids' paths cross more than can be accounted for by serendipity, or that Burstein has woven in an alt-rock score and some rather lovely animation to catch the flavor of each teen's inner life. Or is it? Even when it's ripping off Juno, American Teen is fascinating: After all, the more time you spend with anyone, the more they'll surprise you. But in selecting her young subjects, Burstein couldn't quite shake off the hackneyed typecasting of nerd, sports hero, princess, rebel, and hunk. Without the reductive labeling, the kids and their struggles are plenty absorbing, but we'll never know how much their stories were consciously shaped by the filmmaker into a descendant of The Breakfast Club.

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