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American Teen tells the story of the senior year of five very different students at Warsaw High School—Megan (the princess), Jake (the geek), Colin (the jock), Hannah (the rebel) and Mitch (the heart-breaker). We follow their highs and lows as they find and lose romance, make and break friends, battle with depression and the pressure of fulfilling their own and their parents’ dreams. How many will graduate and how many will find love at the senior prom? Oh, did I mention it’s a documentary? Well, it is...

American Teen
During the opening scenes, the casual viewer could be forgiven for thinking that American Teen is a typical high school drama/comedy and not a documentary. It opens as the first day of the senior year begins, with a voiceover by one of the five main subjects of the ‘story’. The first few minutes are spent establishing the main characters and their social positions within the school in a montage that could be the opening scene of any number of American Pie-a-like teen movies. The fact that the DVD cover (but not the movie itself) bills the five main subjects as ‘the heart-throb’, ‘the geek’, ‘the jock’, ‘the princess ‘ and ‘the rebel’ shows that the director (or at least the marketing team) were pushing for American Teen to be thought of as a real-life version of The Breakfast Club.

American Teen
Through all five characters, we get a cross-section through life at an American high school as we share the key moments and fears that all pupils go through. All five of the subjects have their dreams and fears for the future as they consider their options post-graduation. They all fall in and out of love, apart from Megan (the princess) who shares an odd relationship with a ‘best friend’ who she then falls out with when a friend starts to date him. Even the supposed ‘geek’ seems to get his fair share of action so it’s difficult to feel too sorry for his supposedly low standing in Warsaw High, especially when we see what he gets up to when he goes to see his brother in San Diego after failing to get a date for an event at school.

American Teen
There are moments where I was left wondering just how much observation is going on here and how many moments were given a bit of help in their construction. There is an equivalent of the webcam scene in American Pie that seems just too well-scripted and edited to have played out in real life the way it does here. We get to see the dark side of high school life from this event, with the breakup of friendships and even cyber-bullying. If you add in one person’s battle with depression and the pressure heaped on others by their parents, this documentary edges towards hard-hitting territory at times and definitely shows us the lows of modern school life as well as the highs.

Footage of real life is interspersed with short animated scenes that are very inventive in showing us what’s going on in the minds of the main characters. For example, when Jake (the geek) is discussing his trouble with girls we see him as Link in his own version of a Zelda game, defeating the bad guy and saving the girl of his dreams. These sequences are key to getting inside the heads of these people and while they are effective, they’re not over-utilised so as to become a distraction to the real story.

American Teen

Video


Shown in 1.78:1 widescreen, the quality of the footage in American Teen varies wildly from scene to scene, clearly dependent on the different cameras used to put all the footage together. The animated dream sequences are the highest quality scenes, no doubt because they were generated by computer at a higher resolution than the rest of the film. Some sequences are obviously from lower-grade cameras, possibly belonging to the pupils at the school and it’s not difficult to pick these scenes out because the picture is far too sharp and edge enhancement is a serious issue. However, even though the colours appear washed-out at times, for the most part American Teen looks fine—just nothing to write home about in the video stakes.

American Teen

Audio


We only get a stereo audio track for the movie and seeing as this is a dialogue-heavy movie, there’s not too much to wow the audience. This is with the exception of the animated sequences, where additional effects have been added in. It makes me wonder how the budget was split between the animation and the rest of the movie, or even if more money was made available in post-production for these scenes. As with the picture, the sound quality varies throughout the movie, with the dialogue muted and fuzzy at times.

Extras


On top of a trailer, all we get is a couple of junket interviews with the five main players. They answer a few questions about making the movie, but even with the short running time they manage to overlap each other with their answers.

American Teen

Overall


I enjoyed American Teen for its attempt to structure real American high school life in a way that comes across as a scripted teen movie, although at times I was left wondering just how contrived certain scenes were. I hope we get a special edition release at some point in the future because it would be good to see more from the main characters and how their lives eventually turn out, but also I’d be interested to see some of the footage from the other schools that were considered for this documentary. As it stands, this is a movie definitely worthy of your time, even if the package itself isn’t that impressive.


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