A documentary that tells you what you already know about teenagers...
By Ned Jordan
American Teen is a documentary that follows the senior year of four students
at Warsaw High School in Warsaw, Indiana. The four students all fall into
traditional and clichd role - jock, prom queen princess, band queen, and artsy
outsider - and each pretty much behaves in the way you expect that they would.
Therein lies the problem with American Teen, it focuses on four teenagers who
act in pretty much the way you expect them to act in a year of high school that
could pretty much have been set anywhere at any time. Simply turning on
the camera and standing around as teenagers act like teenagers does not make for
a documentary. There's no insight into the teenaged condition, nothing to
be learned or reflected upon, just the typical angst, melodrama, and uncertainty
everyone who has been through high school has already experienced for
themselves. In fact, the presence of the film crew seems to encourage the
kids to at times take the melodrama up a notch. It's also disturbing to
watch the film crew stand idly by filming things as students vandalize the home
of another student after a spat over the selection of a theme for the winter
All of this makes it difficult to sit through this film. The pettiness,
the warped, self-centered perspective, and all of the things that make teenagers
so endearing to anyone who's not one of them will try your patience in spite of
the under 90 minute run time. And then when they reach graduation the film
ends abruptly, leaving you with the feeling that nothing really significant
happened and without really caring about what happens to the teens in the film.