STUDIO:  Paramount Vantage
MSRP: $19.99
RUNNING TIME: 101 Minutes
-    Pop Quiz: Cast Interviews
-    Hannah Blogs
-    Character Trailers
-    Deleted Scenes

The Pitch

They keep pushing The Breakfast Club on us as a point of departure in the advertising, so we’ll say it’s like that if the kids in that film rarely interacted and didn’t perform any synchronized dancing.

Inspiring, until you realize the banner is referring to the one Asian foreign exchange student.

The Humans

Hannah “The Rebel (Cause she dances and does art and is prone to fits of depression!)” Bailey, Megan “The Drama Queen (She’s terrible to other kids but she has sadness in her life, but don’t worry, it will be withheld until late in the game!)” Krizmanich, Colin “The Jock (Trying to make it to the NBA in the vein of other outwardly emotion white men such as Adam Morrison!)” Clemens, Mitch “The Hunk (there isn’t much to Mitch)” Reinholt, and Jake “The Geek (Acne!  MMORPG’s! The Clarinet!)” Tusing

“There’s this other game on here that I just don’t fucking get.  You click on blocks and then there’s smiley faces and sometimes there’s numbers and then I just lose and there’s bombs and shit.  What the fuck were you guys doing in the ’80’s?”

The Nutshell

High school is said by many to be the best years of your life.  I should qualify ‘many’ by adding that it’s mostly comprised of people who were raped and murdered immediately following their graduation.  However, this doesn’t stop teenagers from the feeling that these formative years are the most IMPORTANT THING EVER TO HAPPEN IN THE HISTORY OF TIME.  Granted, life is a formative process and the moment you stop developing and changing as a person you become socially retarded, but let’s ignore and continue with the platitudes that heap importance on a time that becomes less and less important the further you get from it.  This movie follows the senior year trajectory of five kids: Hannah, Colin, Jake, Mitch and Megan as they traverse the murky waters of young adulthood before moving on to the next step in their lives.  Along the way they find heartache, success, and whatever else shit teens do.  Masturbation, I guess.

‘Boys will be boys’ example #43: hallway Zapruder film reenactments.

The Lowdown

It’s hard not to feel like you’re being gamed throughout American Teen, especially when incredibly arch shots of our main characters walking slowly down empty school hallways with banners that apply to the emotions they’re feeling right then sprout up throughout.  There’s also the simple fact that of an entire year of high school we’re getting a 100 minute movie with a decidedly simple narrative structure, so the time compression involved leaves the director with no choice but to simplify, simplify, simplify all in the name of the structure of the film/year of high school.  It also hurts that high school aged kids aren’t going to be the most interesting or articulate people on the planet to follow around for an entire movie, and you have a recipe for disaster.  The movie is a brisk 100 minutes, but feels like eternity when stuck with the romantic foibles of these kids, especially considering you never are made to feel that the events are as important as these kids are feeling.  Burstein herself seems to have realized that the film was lacking and jazzed it up with some animated sequences that feel woefully out of place even if that add visual interest to a mostly drab (but that’s sort of the point, right?) visual palette.

The poor testing of the lost sixth student Alison “Area 51″ Screamflesh led to her being relegated to the deleted scenes.

There are admirable qualities to the picture, too.  It does capture the pervasive feeling that high school is a shit time for one and all, complete with every social stratum left feeling as though they’re the only ones experiencing everything so deeply and profoundly.  It also has to be commended for showing drinking, smoking and discussion of sexual activity without passing any judgment on the characters.  In a society that is determined to desexualize or repress any notions of such behavior in the teenage population, it’s great that Nanette Burstein chose to portray this matter-of-factly without any moral qualifications.  That said she does engage in labeling each of these kids with some pretty stale archetypes while also trying to blow them up, which feels a lot like trying to have your cake and eat it too.  At the end of the film I just found myself feeling bad for these kids for having had their lives taped and committed to film history during some of the most awkward and painful years of a human being’s life.  And all in the service of a picture that doesn’t differentiate itself in any substantial way from the reality television shows that follow young people on TV.  You feel like you’re being told the story the filmmakers wanted to tell from the get-go and everything that doesn’t serve that falls by the wayside in order for that story to be told (the parents in particular, look really shitty in this picture – how much of that is by virtue of the narrative is hard to say).  If I wanted highly processed and thoroughly edited reality I’ll go to MTV.  Avoid unless you masochistically want to relive your high school days.

“I like the kid’s wingspan.”                          “Imagine if he learns to post up?”
       “Tara Reid showed me her boobs on the set of My Boss’ Daughter.
“What the fuck are you doing here Stamp?”

The Package

This is sold exclusively at Target, hence the BUY IT NOW link at the top of the page.  This strikes me as a poor business plan, especially for a movie where your target audience isn’t a Target audience.  And to compound the problems even more the cover art is complete garbage.  To be clear, the point of the movie is to show teenage life warts and all with these kids specifically being chosen for their candid nature in revealing their triumph and turmoil throughout the year.  So why would your first choice in advertising be these horrible airbrushed photographs that make these kids look more like Madame Tussaud outtakes than actual young adults?  I can’t stress enough how shitty and reductive this cover is.  At least The Breakfast Club poster has an excuse for the airbrushing and also proves the point that high school is just as you remember it succinctly by playing on a reference point that the majority of its viewing public will quickly catch on to. 

Even test tube Chris Farley knows to fear this girl with a loaded weapon.

The extras are just as awful as the cover art with only a few featurettes of note.  The deleted scenes are easily the most substantial, and they go a long way towards forgiveness on my part towards the filmmakers.  If this is the quality of scenes they had to choose from, it’s a miracle the movie works at all.  It is notable that the most agonizing scene I’ve ever seen in cinema is contained therein, so tread lightly.  There’s some ‘Hannah blogs’ that are really just deleted scenes shot with Hannah delivering scintillating monologues on subjects such as “the perfect guy” and “Rwandan genocide” (guess which ones a joke!) as well as awkward cast interviews and some trailers geared towards each particular person highlighted in the documentary.  It’s nice that there are extras, but these are some pretty terrible extras.

Much like this movie, that cup is full of piss.

5.5 out of 10