Regardless of your own high school experience, chances are a lot of memories will come flooding back with “American Teen,” a remarkable documentary that chronicles four teens navigating their senior year.
Oscar-nominated documentarian Nanette Burstein took her cameras to small town Warsaw, Ind., to follow school archetypes familiar to anyone who remembers John Hughes flicks of the Eighties. There is artsy rebel Hannah Bailey, easily the movie’s most endearing subject, who dreams of being a filmmaker. Affable jock Colin Clemens needs to get an athletic scholarship if he hopes to avoid the Army. Band geek Jake Tusing yearns for a girlfriend, but his social awkwardness gets in the way. Lording over them all is princess Megan Krizmanich, a popular and pretty blonde with a viper’s disposition.
The movie is evocative and beautifully crafted, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the grumbling of documentary purists. Presumably because of a few likely staged shots and the degree of naked emotion that Burstein captures, some have accused “American Teen” of being phony. If the kids weren’t manipulated by the ever-present camera, so goes the argument, then they were doing their own manipulating by exaggerating their own actions.
I don’t buy it “ or, to be more precise, I don’t buy that Burstein impacted her film’s subject matter any more than documentarians always do. News flash: Awareness of being watched invariably alters reality, but that does not negate the relevance and truth of what unfolds on-screen. “American Teen” is a terrific, absorbing movie; all detractors need to report to Saturday detention.