American Teen movie poster
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American Teen movie poster

American Teen Movie Review

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In an era where "Real World" and "The Hills" have made reality skewed, it's only fitting that we get a documentary called American Teen, which looks to examine the real "real" world. Strangely enough, the movie does still represent high school as a lot more dramatic and interesting than when I attended. Then again, I wasn't the most social of beings in high school and really don't fit into any of the five categories that director Nanette Burstein establishes: the Prom Queen, the Heartthrob, the Jock, the Rebel and the Geek.

American Teen goes inside a real high school, and according to the director and the teenagers involved, everything seen on film is unscripted and real. The Prom Queen is a bit of a bitch, and seems to relish in it. At the same time, she's also one of the smartest girls in school and has a lot of accomplishments. The Heartthrob is a good-looking guy who plays on the basketball team and can get any girl he wants - including the Rebel, an attractive, artistic girl that could be likened to Rachel Leigh Cook in She's All That - with a few more depression and bipolar issues added on. The Jock is another basketball player who is being pressed by his dad to score more points to land a good scholarship, while the Geek has few friends but desperately wants a girlfriend.

As one would expect, the Geek's story is the best; despite being extremely socially awkward, he wants to change and is trying his best to change his lifestyle, fit in and get a girl. Amazingly, he actually gets a couple ladies over the course of the year - and they're pretty cute. The other storylines are pretty interesting as well, though given the 101-minute running time, parts feel a little clipped here and there; some of the characters don't get featured as much as the others, too.

I didn't know what to expect from the film, but was pleasantly surprised. Say what you will about how real it feels, but American Teen is entertaining and leaves you wanting more. Thankfully, the DVD includes some deleted scenes, including an extremely long and awkward late night kiss between the Geek and one of his dates. It is cringe inducing, but I bet a lot of guys have been in that same situation. Beyond that, there are some funny parts, a few dramatic moments, but mainly just little events that seem so major in high school but, as many of the teens admit at the end of the film, were not so important or handled really poorly (the Heartthrob foolishly breaks up with the Rebel via text massage).

It'd be interesting to see Burstein do a follow-up with these characters now that they're in college. While she touches on what they're up to at the end, it would certainly be interesting to see how they have actually progressed. In other words, I'm asking for a sequel.

American Teen isn't for everyone, and film purists will shrug it off as faux reality TV, but I buy that these are real people doing real things. And the result is rather entertaining.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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