"You accomplished some amazing things... You made it through high school." After her brilliant handling of Robert Evans in The Kid Stays In The Picture, documentary maker Nanette Burstein turns her attention to the American high school and what it means to be teenager in America today. Inside the ordinary Indiana Tech, Burstein finds the school basketball hero Colin whose parents can't afford college and needs to drag his average team to the finals and secure himself a scholarship; arty rocker Hannah is threatened with expulsion when she refuses to return to school after her boyfriend dumps her; rich bitch Megan spends more time wrecking other people's lives than studying; and lonely outsider Jake struggles with... Well, everything. American Teen is almost the perfect high school drama Hollywood churn out every summer, but what those dramas lack is reality and this documentary is anchored in exactly that. The 'leads' could hail from those teen movies – Hannah is John Cusack in Better Off Dead; Megan could star in Mean Girls; Colin is Jimmy in Hoosiers; and Jake, who admits he “sucks at life,” and “no one notices me,” is the personification of every Smiths song. Burstein gives her documentary pace by skipping through the characters' lives, ending each segment on a cliffhanger and never dwells long on one in particular (the prom finale is almost an afterthought). But what's most impressive is her ability to convince the students to talk so openly about their feelings (Jake, especially, seems delighted that someone is interested in him, regardless if it's a documentary maker or not). The only element that stops American Teen from being perfect is Burstein's reliance on an MTV editing technique: on more than one occasion she inserts reaction shots not from that moment to create tension (we've seen this a million times in X Factor and other pap and it's insincere). American Teen is for those tired of scripted and clichéd takes on what Hollywood tells us what it means to be a teenager.
Watch: American Teen
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