By: Mark Di Stefano
Rating: 8 out of 10
This year there have not been many films that have been solely about coming of age. There were films that touched on the subject of coming of age like The Tree of Life and Young Adult, but these and other films were either about adults becoming grown-ups or something else entirely. Rarely though has there been a film in recent years that resembles those films of the eighties and nineties about teenagers coming of age like The Sandlot or The Breakfast Club (obviously). The Myth of the American Sleepover, David Robert Mitchell’s indie directorial debut, is a film that almost ranks high on films about teenagers coming of age (almost).
Written by Mitchell, the film is intersecting stories about the last night of summer for a group of teenagers in a Suburban town outside of Detroit, Michigan.
At the heart of the film though are four teenagers. There’s Maggie, a freshman who’s a thrill seeker, Rob, a freshman who’s looking for the girl that might be the one, Claudia, a sophomore whose boyfriend might be lying about his past, and Scott, a college dropout who reconnects with his high school crushes to see if there’s any spark.
These four along with many other teenagers are invited to various sleepovers that seem normal and innocent in the beginning, but as each of the four character’s own journey progresses through the night, they eventually serve as a rite of passage into adulthood.
The film features mostly first-time actors, giving a more realistic feel and voice to the characters they play. For a movie about teenage angst this one feels more honest than most do because of its raw, straightforward attitude mixed with the intelligent stories that pan out. David Robert Mitchell uses the camera to create a fluid, beautiful picture where each shot matters.
The dialogue in the film can seem a little cheesy, notably when Maggie’s friend answers in response to how she’s doing with “another beer and I’ll be fantastic.” While this type of dialogue is no different than other teenage movies, it feels tacky at times in this one.
At times the film can seem like a P.S.A. about drinking and smoking at a young age since almost every character does it, walking a thin line between glorifying and realistically handling those activities. The reality is though that teenagers nowadays experience drinking and smoking as early as late middle school. In the film though the drinking and other activities oddly supplement the story rather than derailing it completely, with each of the characters own journey as the focus.
The film ultimately deals with the universal themes of growing up and young love. As an older boy tells Maggie in the film, “I don’t want you to buy in to all the youthful adventure bullshit…it’s a myth of being a teenager. They trick you into giving up your childhood with all these promises of adventure. Once you realize what you lost it’s too late, you can’t get it back.” The film deals solely with teenagers and what they’re going through with no mention of parents or adult authority figures. Each character’s struggle to find what they’re looking for connects with all of us on a very human level.
While The Myth of the American Teenager is a bit choppy, its intelligence, spirit, and raw performances compensates for that. David Robert Mitchell made a film that speaks to the teenager in all of us, and makes us feel for these characters. While it’s hard to create the most accurate portrayal of teenage angst, this one comes close.