American Teen arrives on DVD this late December after achieving the feat of being the highest grossing documentary of 2008. It is easy to see why. It is touching and reverberates on so many levels, American Teen is impeccably transfixing.
Hannah Bailey begins the film as a narrator of sorts and establishes American Teen’s panorama. She is the art kid, and then there’s the rest of what at first seems to be a stereotypical group.
The popular girl Megan, the basketball star Colin, Mitch the stud and the geek, Jake.
All seek the same thing, a further discovery of themselves…and a little romance. They are teenagers after all!
It is their senior year at their Indiana high school, as much as seems certain, appears uncertain. Megan is dreaming of Notre Dame and can not do anything this year to jeopardize that goal. Colin is seeking a basketball scholarship because his family cannot afford college – plus, he’s good enough of an athlete to have recruiters banging on his door. Mitch desires Indiana University – which seems a foregone conclusion – while Jake and Hannah’s goals are much more adult.
Jake wants to find a soul mate and himself in the process while Hannah dreams of living in California pursuing a career as a filmmaker. Hannah shoots photos, paints, writes and is as she says, “I am so not Red State in the middle of a seriously Red State.”
Thus, the American Teen journey begins. There are surprises, moments of shock, hilarity, and an unforeseen emotional pull that makes American Teen not only one of the best documentaries of 2008, but one of the year’s best films.
Academy Award nominated director Nanette Burstein spent an entire year with these teenagers and managed to capture the essence, not only of American teenage life in 2008, but the seeds of how our entire culture comes together as adults. The entire framework exists in high school. Sorry, but it’s true! This DVD proves it.
What also makes American Teen so compelling is how these figures begin at what the audience expects are stereotypical cut-outs of American high school: the geek, the prom queen, the jock, the rebel and the heartthrob. By the closing credits of American Teen, you will not look away because these characters are so much more than their social status.
They are real and therefore, exist on more numerous dimensions than can be captured in a traditional fictional film such as Breakfast Club. American Teen pulls you so in to the story that as the credits roll and the teens have their ‘what am I up to now’ updates, each and every one is not only required viewing…I can’t think how you would not want to know more about Megan, Colin, Mitch, Jake and the effervescent Hannah.