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Quint flirts with AMERICAN TEEN, the best documentary at Sundance!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Sundance is winding down. We only have one more full day of press screenings then it’s back to begging for tickets for the public ones. A lot of press have gone home, most of the stars have gone home, but now’s when the real deal movie buffs come out. TBAs are filling in, the awards will be announced soon and some of the more popular films are getting additional screenings. One such flick was AMERICAN TEEN, a documentary I’d written off. I mean, another documentary about tough high school life? Doesn’t sound all that new or interesting, but I’d been hearing some surprisingly high praise for the film from fest goers, so when it got slotted into one of tonight’s TBAs I made sure to see it. AMERICAN TEEN is the best documentary I’ve seen since KING OF KONG. And I’ve seen some really good documentaries since, especially here in Park City. Now the movie is totally different than KING OF KONG, but in terms of entertainment value and the level to which you get personally invested with the people on-screen it stands eyeball to eyeball with KING OF KONG. The doc follows four main people going to a small town Indiana high school. All are seniors and all have serious issues. You have Megan Krizmanich, the popular blonde who is stereotypically bitchy and exclusive, but has so much insecurity and personal life trauma that bubbles up as we get to know her. You have Jake Tusing, the geek. He plays video games, he has bad acne and is desperate for a strong romantic relationship. He’s shy, but a genuinely nice person. You have Colin Clemens, the jock. He’s not the stereotypical jock, at least in terms of how he deals with other students. He’s a nice guy, but the pressures of being the star basketball player finally get to him as he realizes this season will determine whether or not he can get a scholarship. If he doesn’t, his dad is all but forcing him to join up with the Air Force. Finally you have Hannah Bailey. Imagine mixing Ally Sheedy from BREAKFAST CLUB with Molly Ringwald from PRETTY IN PINK (with a little bit of Sam from 16 CANDLES thrown in). She’s the arty “different” girl in this small conservative town. But she’s sweet, just unconditionally kind. And cute as a button to boot. The typical high school drama plays a factor (bad break-ups, college acceptance, the different cliques conflicting with each other, etc), but what’s really unique about this doc is how well director Nanette Burstein picked her subjects. My emotions ran from pity to elation to sorrow to happiness and everything in between. There’s some amazing cruelty in this movie, mostly at the hands of Megan. There’s one girl who falls for Megan’s best friend (a guy Megan clearly has a crush on) and they end up hooking up. Afterwards, this girl sends the guy a topless photo of herself and unfortunately for her Megan gets a hold of it and forwards it to everybody in the school. If that wasn’t enough Megan also holds a party where all the popular girls call this poor girl’s voicemail and leave incredibly cruel and hurtful messages. In an interview later with this girl, you see her try to put a brave “what can ya’ do?” face on it, but her eyes and quivering lip expose her true feelings. The geek gets his fair share of abuse, too. Actually, everybody except Megan are put through some horrendous emotional shit. In fact, I kept thinking of Matt Stone’s words of wisdom from BOWLING FROM COLUMBINE. I wanted to go to Hannah, Colin and Jake (and Erica, the poor topless photo girl) and look them in the eye and explain how high school isn’t the entire world. These bitches and assholes that are making you miserable have reached their full potential already and these guys will go on to bigger and better things, lead more meaningful lives. I think it’s a testament to the documentary that I was emotionally involved enough to want to console these poor people. Hannah has her heart broken during the course of the film and I wanted to sit her down and tell her that these shallow douches aren’t all that life has to offer and even though I don’t know this girl I was worried that these experiences were going to kill the excited, kind soul I was introduced to. On top of picking great subjects, there’s another fascinating aspect to this documentary. There are animated sequences for each person, including a fucking brilliant-looking stop-motion sequence that would give Tim Burton a boner. What they do is pick an interesting time or story or event and have one of our main people talk about it as different artists and different animation places bring these moments to life with artist representations of these kids. The dark stop-motion one for Hannah, after a harsh break-up, is great and there’s a really funny computer animated sequence for Jake. We see him playing video games, specifically Zelda, and suddenly we see an acne-ridden Link rescuing a Zelda version of one of the girl’s he’s sweet on. I walked away from this one beaming. I loved this documentary. It’s entertaining and emotionally moving. Sometimes it’s mean, sometimes it’s funny as hell, sometimes it’s sweet, but it’s never boring, repetitive or dull. AMERICAN TEEN got picked up at Sundance by Paramount Vantage. Good grab, guys. This is a great movie. When it comes near you don’t pass it up. Alright, I’m going to catch some sleep, but I have another few reviews half-written (put on the back-burner after seeing this one) and a couple more I still haven’t started. Tons of stuff still to come, squirts. -Quint

Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 25, 2008, 3:43 a.m. CST

    Been looking

    by Uncle_Pooch

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 3:44 a.m. CST

    and it looks good

    by Uncle_Pooch

    stupid computer

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 4:47 a.m. CST

    Real title should be...

    by thinboyslim.

    American Teen: How a narcissistic is born Where are the parents, techers or the hippy councilor from Freaks&Geeks during all this heartbreak and bullying.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 5:07 a.m. CST

    Looks Good

    by Midnightxpress

    ...thou hopefulyl it will get a wider release in the UK than King of Kong ever did...

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 5:41 a.m. CST

    Yeah, I Remember Being A Teenager Too

    by LaserPants

    I just never felt the need to whine about it, or document it for ease of access on YouTube. Why is this generation such a bunch of whiners? Get over yourselves! Life is hard, deal with it.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 6:35 a.m. CST

    The point of the review...

    by tonagan

    Never watch this film with Tim Burton. It would be awkward.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 7:40 a.m. CST

    Topless teens?

    by scudd

    Sign me up!

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 7:51 a.m. CST

    Ya know..

    by thinboyslim.

    making a documentary and then selling it to a national distributor probably isn't going to help the topless kids self esteem, its very well the cheerleader showing her school mates the photo but you guys are showing the world.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 8:20 a.m. CST

    Hannah Bailey

    by BetaRayBill07

    Here to comfort you. Always. Us talkbackers are definitely the kind, caring sort. Now I must quit doing crack lol.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 8:24 a.m. CST

    Isn't this way i watch

    by eric haislar

    The Breakfast Club

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 8:25 a.m. CST

    Fuck mean why

    by eric haislar

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 9:03 a.m. CST

    What happens to these kids?

    by Hikaru Ichijo

    pseudo-documentary. How can a child behave normally with a camera in her face, even in this day and age? This just sounds like more voyeurism.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 9:44 a.m. CST

    Lets find some kids getting abused by other kids

    by INWOsuxRED

    and then tape it! When the abused kids kill themselves because not only were they abused, but they had adults observe the behavior and do nothing about it, we can make a sequel!

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 11:19 a.m. CST

    Did this documentary have...

    by Dr. Stanley Goodspeed

    explosions and john rambo? ...because if it didn't then i don't care.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 11:25 a.m. CST

    American Teen.

    by WickedMonster

    I was born in East Africa. I didn't know there were different psychological layers in a teenage person until I arrived in the U.S. a few years ago. Then I learned about the factors of Adolescence and change and puberty and how the schools and the community take special care when the children go through this phase in their lives. <p>Well, guess what? Teens in East Africa don't get treated like special human beings, at least during the time I was studying there, roughly, the early 90's. We get whipped in the ass with canes the size of tree barks if we didn't submit homeworks. If you get through the day with getting whipped three times, consider it the best day of the week. </p> <p>Bullying, cliques, popularity all these things were there, but we never defined it, like its being done here. The girls would beat the boys if they tried something funny, and get whipped by teachers later on.</p> <p>Forget high school, this happened in middle school and junior high. In high school, you get slapped on the face for doing something stupid. Heh, and this used to be the best high school and junior high in the country.</p> <p>American Teen? Boo hoo.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 11:43 a.m. CST

    That description doesn't interest me in the least.

    by rbatty024

    Sure, we were all a little self-involved in high school (some more than others) but I have no interest in revisiting that period of narcissism through the eyes of a handful of stereotypical students. I'll pass.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 11:49 a.m. CST

    ricarleite: 7 Up.

    by Saluki

    This has been done, in the 7 Up series. They've been following these people since the 1960's when they were children, and have caught up with them every seven years since.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 12:13 p.m. CST

    i'm going to go out and say...

    by damagedinc

    that Quint is probably my second favorite writer here after Moriarty and sometimes Quint gets top billing. While some writers have too many geeky lenses with which they look at movies, these two still write from the heart and I relate to their responses, even when they are geeking out.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 12:18 p.m. CST

    Uh... no, actually...

    by Kid Z

    Re: "In fact, I kept thinking of Matt Stone’s words of wisdom from BOWLING FROM COLUMBINE. I wanted to go to Hannah, Colin and Jake (and Erica, the poor topless photo girl) and look them in the eye and explain how high school isn’t the entire world. These bitches and assholes that are making you miserable have reached their full potential already and these guys will go on to bigger and better things, lead more meaningful lives." What really happens is you go on to end up in a dead end job with these same assholes as your supervisors. Despite the fact that they're invariably talentless morons who couldn't manage a Junior Foods store, "Daddy" invariably has the connections to place them high on the corporate ladder right off the bat. Sad, but too true.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 1:51 p.m. CST

    Kid Z

    by mthrndr

    That's EXACTLY what I was about to post. I was a nerd in HS, and my friends and I would often take solace in the fact that the assholes in the school would get theirs in some karmic "real world" while we went on to great things. Guess what...those assholes are now real estate developers, lawyers and have other "Daddy" connected jobs, hot wives and all the accoutrements while my friends are caught in an endless loop of lame tech jobs and neverending post-graduate work. yeah, Matt Stone, you really know what the fuck your talking about. not everyone makes it big with cardboard cutout animations.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 2:36 p.m. CST

    Kid Z speaks the truth...

    by Sledge Hammer

    People want to believe that after school the real world will operate based on merit, not connections, good looks and clique based popularity, but that's not the way things are, and if you really think that after Highschool that the 'geeks will enherit the earth' then you're living in a fantasy land. Highschool isn't different from real life, it's a fucking preview. Take a look around, how many former geeks, nerds and weirdos do you see in positions of power and authority compared to the number of jocks and bitchy prima donnas? Learn to suck it up, because most people never get to taste the mythical "revenge of success".

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 3:38 p.m. CST

    it's not ALWAYS the truth

    by oisin5199

    What KidZ and Sledgehammer talk about is certainly true, but not always. Sometimes the whole "they peaked in high school" observation is also true. I remember at my 10 year reunion seeing a guy who used to be the ultimate pretty-boy jock varsity quarterback and at 10 years was fat and balding. Regardless, some of the social realities may stay the same, but some of the petty shit that goes down in high school doesn't matter anymore. Sometimes people do change or mature. Not always, but sometimes. About the movie, this sounds awfully close to a fantastic documentary/reality show on PBS a few years back called American High that looked at a group of kids in a Chicago suburban high school. I believe it started out on Fox, but got cancelled and continued on PBS. So, no, not very original. I guess it depends on what the film says overall about the teen experience.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 4:03 p.m. CST

    What about Bigger, Stronger, Faster Quint?

    by TheIronGiant

    I heard that was an awesome doc that screened at Sundance as well. Will we see a review?

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 4:05 p.m. CST

    It all depends on CLASS, folks

    by deathbird

    Average I.Q. scumbags from middle-class/upper-class families can expect to do well in life; average I.Q. scumbags from the working class/poor should not. Face it: this is not a world for the virtuous.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 4:12 p.m. CST


    by WickedMonster

    Sudan is not East Africa, and I wasn't looking for pity. I was giving out some perspective on what goes on outside this country. <p>Like I said, this was a few years ago. When I checked back there recently, they have dropped corporal punishment completely. Now they just overload work on children and pay high salaries to teachers who are supposed to teach the "American Standard of Education" but don't know shit, kinda like here. <p>Anyway I am going back to lurking.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 4:13 p.m. CST


    by WickedMonster

    Wasn't this documentary a plot point of STORYTELLING? Paul Giamatti's perspective of High School Students Documentary...

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 4:21 p.m. CST

    Are nerds always the good guys, anyway?

    by deathbird

    Who designs all the weapon systems? Who dreams up the cluster bombs and daisy cutters? NERDS. Shit, I'd rather be an ex-jock haulin' produce.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 4:31 p.m. CST

    Yeah HS was bullshit

    by Dr. Egon Spengler

    For whatever reason, I was able to get along with almost anyone I came across in HS, but after 4 years of inescapable drama, it became very exhausting; graduation day was such a relief!

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 5:16 p.m. CST

    How can you praise this?

    by CyberBeavis1326

    Seriously as far as a documentary goes his sounds really pretentious and annoying. There's no way I'd waste my money or time on it. This documentary seems like a rip-off of Laguna Beach and those other terrible MTV teen reality shows. I don't watch those pieces of shit, so why in the hell would I care to watch this pretentious dreck? What happened to compelling documentaries like "Bowling For Columbine", "Super Size Me", "Jesus Camp", etc.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 5:28 p.m. CST

    The sad truth...

    by Biggie Kaiju

    The very same obnoxious have-it-all-on-a-silver-platter assholes who you envied and despised in high school will very likely be the same kind of obnoxious have-it-all-on-a-silver-platter assholes who you'll envy and despise in adulthood. Some earn it, most don't. We live in a world where the bad guys usually win and the assholes ALWAYS triumph. Exhibit A: New England Patriots. Watching John Rambo slowly tear Tom Brady's throat out would literally give me an erection. Exhibit B: George W. Bush. In his case, a diagnosis of inoperable, untreatable bone cancer would provoke the previously-described boner. The key is DO NOT LET THE ASSHOLES BREAK YOU. Break them, even if only in your own mind.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 6:44 p.m. CST

    Actually Shallow Douches ARE Pretty Much What Life Is About

    by skoobyx

    There's also desperation, hopelessness and customer service employment. Enjoy your twenties.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 7:13 p.m. CST

    Go Hoosiers!

    by GravyAkira

    Indiana high school doc? A must see! Thanks Quint!

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 7:43 p.m. CST

    For all the haters above me, listen up

    by volleygrl56

    I went to Warsaw where they taped this, I graduated with these guys. You guys think this was a Laguna Beach or Newport Harbor, when we found out the school was being taped we wanted it to be as different from that as possible, cuz really Laguna Beach isnt reality tv, its crap that is staged. This stuff isnt staged. The girl who went topless, dumb mistake, she's still dealing with it. You can say all you want about Megan "the popular girl" she was a bitch and not a cheerleader, dont give her that much credit. But ricarleite dont rag on Colin. He was a basketball player, not a jock. One of the nicest and funniest guys you ever met, he wont be selling carpet anytime soon. And Hannah is brillant. The kids they taped were taped for a reason, they were interesting. I'm sorry if you guys had bad high school experiences but this is a big thing for us, we have our yearbook in video form. I think you should just give the movie a chance. Things are so different in Warsaw. Just have an open mind that's all.

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 9:23 p.m. CST

    Quint- I'm dying to hear your thoughts on Hell Ride and

    by SkinJob69

    Funny Games. Loved the first one, hated the second. I know you had planned to see both, and I'd be really interested in your review of those.<p> And while we're at it: how about Mysteries of Pittsburg? The Last Word? The Wackness? Three other stand-outs at the fest, IMO-

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 10:05 p.m. CST

    Topless kid & Kiddy Porn

    by jbs0209

    So, did Meagan (IIRC) go to jail for Kiddy Porn?<p> Because if the topless kid is under 18, that is what it is. And mere (even unwanted) possession of it is a crime.<p> Or since Meagan is female will she get a pass?

  • Jan. 25, 2008, 10:37 p.m. CST


    by Quint

    I'm hoping to see hell ride tomorrow, I have reviews in the works for Funny Games, Mysteries of Pittsburgh and The Last Word... The Wackness was one of my first reviews... it's my favorite of the fest, by far. It might be off the page now, but click on "cool news" above and scroll down to the 18th or 19th and my review should still be there.<BR><BR>As for how different this doc is from the TV stuff (I've seen some of that, too), it's all in the personalities they picked to follow. The differences are in the individuals. Unfortunately it has to be seen to be understood... Or I'm just not a good enough writer to express those differences, which might be the case. You'll get a chance to see it, I'm sure, with Paramount Vantage releasing it and then you can see what I'm talking about.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 4:24 a.m. CST

    Just go see...

    by thinboyslim.

    ...Kidulthood, pretty good portrayal of this kind of thing in the UK.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 5:15 a.m. CST

    I went to high school in a small town

    by caruso_stalker217

    And it couldn't have been more different than this shit.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 9:13 a.m. CST

    And these children that you spit on

    by Moe Ron

    as they try to make their way, are immune to your consultations, they're quite aware of what they're going through. Or something like that. I went to high school in Indiana, and it's a good thing nobody filmed me. Pretty boring, but with lots of gratuitous masturbation, interspersed with gratuitous pot smoking. Wow. Nothing's Ch-Ch-Ch-Changed.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 10:13 a.m. CST


    by uss cygnus


  • Jan. 26, 2008, 10:23 a.m. CST

    Kidulthood was horrible...

    by Tourist

    ...Not because it was a bad film mind you, but because if its even one tenth true to life, than my fears that the UK has become a fat drenched cess pool of human slime are true and they need to be nuked off the map and re-started. Jesus, I was a pretty dumb fuck in High School, stole alot, did alot of drugs and generally made peoples lives around me miserable...But I was embarassed watching that movie. I really hope that was a sensationalistic, shallow view of chav scum in Britain. Otherwise thats a whole generation of human refuse.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 10:25 a.m. CST

    uss cygnus

    by Tourist

    Yeah. God forbid. I would expect better from my kids. Have to depend on the welfare of others and make your living doing other peoples dirty work, or being cannon fodder...awesome. Its sort of on the level of being a trash collector, only you get government handouts taken from hard working people, instead of earning your own way.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 11:27 a.m. CST

    Nope, Megan didnt get arrested for topless photos

    by volleygrl56

    "So, did Meagan (IIRC) go to jail for Kiddy Porn? Because if the topless kid is under 18, that is what it is. And mere (even unwanted) possession of it is a crime. Or since Meagan is female will she get a pass?" She never went to jail for it, her daddy is a surgeon and could get her out of anything. Too many people are afraid of him, which is sad. She almost did get arrested for something else she did to a friend of mine.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 11:43 a.m. CST

    Warsaw is a weird place

    by jccalhoun

    I interviewed for a teaching job at Warsaw high school several years ago and let me tell you, as someone from Southern Indiana, Northern Indiana is very different. Ordinarily I wouldn't have any interest in seeing this but since it is in Indiana I'll probably see it at some point.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 1:24 p.m. CST

    My question is, how can this really be a documentary

    by smackfu

    Generally speaking, people will act differently when being followed by a camera, and teenagers are the most self-conscious people on earth. For example, the forwarding of the candid photograph to all the other students. This may be something the girl would typically do, but there's no way she would do it on camera. Which means a lot of these moments are probably partially scripted or coaxed out of the subjects. It's sort of like that Chef Ramsay show where he goes to restaurants to fix what ails them. Invariably, the kitchens are a disgusting pile of health code violations. The thing is, any restaurant owner or chef with an ounce of sanity is going to clean up the place thoroughly for appearances, even before the show runners scout the place, so the fact that the kitchens are messy at showtime means the people directing the 'reality show' encourage them to mess it up for drama. Same with this 'documentary'. It's possible to coax people into relaxing and acting naturally for a documentary, but it's impossible for someone to ignore their innate instinct to hide their secret deplorable acts from others.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 4:55 p.m. CST


    by Tourist

    So we're going to send "Megan", the girl who took the picture of herself, the boy she sent it to, and all the subsequent receivers of the photo to jail for kiddie porn now? Even if there was no kiddies involved? Man, I'm damn lucky we didn't have camera phones back when I was in school. The amount of times I'd been naked and drunk, I would have been like a mini pornographic empire.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 9:35 p.m. CST

    kiddie porn laws...

    by jccalhoun

    Well since Genarlow Wilson got arrested when he was 17 for having oral sex with his 15 year old girlfriend and spent 2 years in jail before getting released, I wouldn't be surprised if a teenager circulating a picture of another under 18 teenager could be distribution of child pornography.

  • Jan. 26, 2008, 10:06 p.m. CST

    Nothing that can't be solved...

    by Sleeperkid staring at a lake.

  • Jan. 27, 2008, 10:04 a.m. CST

    You will get laughed at, you will get burned

    by performingmonkey

    That's life, unfortunately. If you have a certain individual spark about you then that's actually quite dangerous at HS. The parents are often to blame by allowing their kids to grow up with asshole attitudes toward people. That's because THEY are assholes toward their own colleagues/friends etc. If a girl is treated too 'princess-y' all her life, when she hits HS she's gonna have problems. Same with parents who neglect their kids. Teens are often too wrapped up in themselves because their family life sucks. It's human nature to push out the weak and look up to the strong. Now fuck you all.

  • May 16, 2009, 1:10 a.m. CST

    finally saw this recently...

    by The Amazing G

    and I have to say, it was pretty damn boring, defiantly over hyped by AICN

  • May 16, 2009, 1:11 a.m. CST

    oh and allot of it was probably staged

    by The Amazing G

  • Nov. 16, 2009, 5:50 a.m. CST

    this documentary sucked hard

    by The_Crimson_King

    seriously, it was about as interesting (and real) as some reality show on MTV