The Sundance favorite American Teen was recently released on DVD. The documentary introduces viewers to Hannah, Jake, Colin, Megan and Mitch, who are seniors at Warsaw Community High in Warsaw, Indiana. Most of the film’s stars act like they can’t wait to escape the town of their youth. American Teen simply isn’t compelling enough to make you want to stay very long either.
Burstein, who also directed the much better Robert Evans documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, seems to be resolved to choosing kids with “standard” teen anger and issues. I felt like I had seen much of it before. Unfortunately, kids today have far more complex hurdles to leap, and most don’t fit into the roughly drawn boxes the film seems to set up. And in my opinion shouldn’t. Not that these are stories that shouldn’t be told. But I had hopes of more richly textured choices of teen, with more depth to the interviews and profiles. Growing up, I enjoyed painting and playing basketball. I enjoyed going to Chinatown to watch martial arts films, then walking to SoHo, and seeing art. These boxes don’t work for most people. I am not a believer in conforming to social norms that media presents. I certainly don’t want to see them in a documentary.
We have Hannah, the artistic girl who wants to go to San Francisco State University and become a filmmaker. Colin the star basketball star who needs a scholarship to afford college. Jake the kind gamer who’s trying to get a girlfriend. Megan the shallow blonde who plots against her friends. She just wants to go to Notre Dame and follow in her parents’ footsteps. Mitch is the “cool” guy who all the girls like. They all seem to fit into old high school stereotypes.
I enjoyed moments in the film, including a series of CGI fantasy sequences that were used to visually illustrate monologues by the kids. The CGI helped what would have been rather bland interview clips. Images like these showed how the filmmaker leaned towards the artistic and gamer kids being profiled. It would have been nice to see less of it, but visually, it was impressive and daring.
In the end, the kids themselves seem like positive spirits and are humanized in ways we can appreciate. We learn about Hannah’s family problems and her fight with depression. Megan had a sister who committed suicide. Colin’s dad is an Elvis impersonator who pushes him too hard.
I hope if there is an “American Teen 2”, the filmmakers travel to major cities across “America” and get a cross-section of “Americans”, and focus on the wealth of stories that exist out there.
The American Teen DVD is presented in widescreen enhanced for 16:9 TVs with Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround and Spanish 5.1 Surround and English, French and Spanish subtitles. Everything looks crisp and extremely vivid. The doc was shot using HD cameras, so the transfer is exceptional, as it should be.
The disc includes the following special features:
- Pop Quiz: Cast Interviews – Here the filmmakers catch up with the cast and ask them some really brief questions.
- Deleted Scenes – These are some scenes that didn’t make the final cut of the doc.
- Hannah Blogs – This was my favorite section of the extra features. The featurette contains about 18 minutes of footage containing Hannah talking about her theories on life. A very watchable and interesting short.
- Character Trailers – There are five trailers for the film, each one focused on a different character, along with trailers for the Paramount releases The Duchess, Ghost Town, and Defiance.
In the U.S., the DVD is exclusively for sale at Target and for rent basically everywhere. It is available for sale or rent at all major retailers in Canada.