The Kids Stay In The Picture
The new Nanette Burstein documentary American Teen observes and even tampers with a senior class’ transcendence through a high school (“Total caste system”) in Warsaw, Indiana, a small American town that’s labeled “Red State all the way”. To set the stage, the filmmakers all but steal the compact and diverse grouping of stereotypes from the influential John Hughes cult film The Breakfast Club (1985). We are introduced to five main players attending Warsaw Community High School: Colin Clemens (The Jock), Megan Krizmanich (The Princess), Jake Tusing (The Geek), Mitch Reinholt (The Heartthrob in place of The Criminal), and Hannah Bailey (The Recluse — that’s the trailer’s version — The Rebel). Any moment in American Teen would have been appropriate to play ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ by Simple Minds.
This film is really about the fear that stems in adolescence and stirs into oncoming adulthood. The fear of being defined by your vices and insecurities brought up by those vicious, maddening years of being a teenager. The fear of realizing your idealistic youth spent in middling, regretful pastimes that are glibly called ‘the best years of your life’. It is dominated by the fear that things will not get better while the present is eaten up by internal bitterness. High school can really suck. Thankfully the clouds clear and the sun comes out on graduation day.