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Capone Reviews His Favorite Documentary of the Summer--AMERICAN TEEN!!

Hey all. Capone in Chicago here. High-profile documentaries tend to vanish from the radar during the summer, but this year I feel like I've been seeing at least one new one every week. That said, last May I got my first look at a doc that has been wowing audiences young and old since Sundance. And now, just as the new school year is about to begin, my favorite documentary of the summer is finally hitting theaters. Director Nanette Burstein (ON THE ROPES; THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE) has crafted AMERICAN TEEN, a look at a year in the life of five high school seniors (I believe the school they attend is in Indiana), each representing a different stratum of the teen experience. The resulting film is one of the most fascinating and honest portraits of life in and out of school with all the requisite pressures, heartbreaks, petty conflicts and rivalries that often define the adults we become. Although each of the five kids profiled is interesting in their own way, the audience favorite seems to be lovely and spirited Hannah Bailey, clearly destined for things outside of her small Indiana town. Hannah is something of an outcast, who spends much of the first half of the film in a deep depression when her long-time boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her. After getting back into the flow of school after a long absence, Hannah swears off relationships until she meets the unfairly (to me) handsome Mitch, who just happens to be one of Burstein's five subjects. Mitch notices Hannah for the first time performing at a school talent show, and he sweeps her off her feet with an ease that will make every male in the audience envious. Mitch plays basketball with Colin, the team's star player whose Elvis impersonator father says that if Mitch doesn't get a college basketball scholarship (the family can't afford to send him to college), he'll probably end up going into the Army. The fourth student subject is Megan, a driven, smart and popular girl who comes from money and has a mean streak when she feels someone has crossed her. An incident caught on camera that starts out as a simple toilet papering of a house and turns into vandalism as Megan scrawls "fag" on a window, gives us some insight into her troubled mind. Hannah may have been the girl I would have attempted to date in high school (and maybe even today…ahem), but Megan is the person most worthy of deep psychological examination. Without giving anything away here, director Burstein deliberately withholds some information about her past and upbringing that doesn't excuse her behavior but does go a long way toward explaining it. Most mean girls didn't start out that way. The true outcast of the group (and the only student who doesn't really float in the circle that the other four do) is Jake, the grippingly introverted "geek" with bad skin, who is one of the funniest of the bunch, but who has very few social skills. He does manage to find a girlfriend at one point during the film, but she's someone new to the school, and once she makes new and less awkward friends, she cuts Jake loose with little fanfare. Burstein isn't necessarily attempting to capture every cross section of this or any public high school (the fact that there are two jocks in her cast is evidence enough of that), but she still manages to avoid trivializing the emotional ups and downs of teenagers. In our world of surface-level reality shows, it's genuinely refreshing to see a director attempt to capture not only the highs and lows of the high school experience, but also the everyday. Still, would it have killed the director to selected a handsome high school newspaper editor/film critic who longs for the day when he can move to a big city and guide the general public toward the best in cinema, and then marry his high school sweetheart, Hannah? Apparently such creatures only exist in fiction films—horror stories, in particular. The truest test of any film like American Teen is that I didn't want it to stop; I wanted to know where these lives went from here. We do get a short postscript about each subject at the end of the film, and the kids have spent a great deal of the summer touring the country in support of the film, so that fills in many of the gaps. But the truth is, I'd like to know where these five end up in 5 or 10 years, and that's simply because Burstein made me care about each one of these kids, who are both ordinary and extraordinary in so many ways. AMERICAN TEEN will capture a special place in your heart. The truest testament to any film like this is that I want to know what happens to these five individuals (having just met them this last week helped me catch up on their lives). This film made me care about five strangers, and that's a powerful accomplihment. --Capone

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 2, 2008, 1:04 a.m. CST

    testing 1 2 3

    by xega


  • Aug. 2, 2008, 1:07 a.m. CST


    by kingben

    i really want to see this film.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 1:07 a.m. CST

    I heard about this a while back

    by Cletus Van Damme

    I'll check it out.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 1:10 a.m. CST

    Bleh with a sprinkle of bleh

    by Heckles

    Does AICN have a stake in this flick? Reminds me of that shitty book they tried to post. Odd that 'reviews' like this make me not want to see it.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 1:22 a.m. CST

    capone just likes looking at teenaged girls

    by bacci40

    with short perv

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 1:34 a.m. CST

    saw it tonight

    by SpawnofAchilles

    I definitely enjoyed it although I felt it dragged in parts and was a bit derivative and cliche in areas as well, but overall I agree Capone, I cared about these kids (Hannah in particular for me as well, maybe because most of us here can connect with her dream and sense of misplacement, and she's a cutie!) I too was itching to see the aftermath and the seemingly self written epilogues were a nice touch (although a bit light)

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 2:06 a.m. CST

    will not even give it a chance Capone

    by depalma25

    Teenagers, especially teenagers, will act differently around cameras. This is not an accurate depiction. Cameras change everything.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 2:20 a.m. CST

    If the chick painted 'fag' on someone's whatever

    by smackfu

    that indicates to me that the students were able to sufficiently tune out the cameras. Because anyone realizing that they are being watched and judged would not do that.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 2:30 a.m. CST

    It was really good

    by Spaz Medicine

    And yeah, Hannah was my favorite of the bunch as well. Not to much because she was cute or even because I felt some connection with her being an "outcast" or whatever. When we are first introduced to her, she has this fun spirit about her and you immediately sense that she doesn't give a fuck about what people think she should be. And she was also hopelessly in love with her boyfriend. When she got dumped and went into a deep depression, it was truly heartbreaking. And when she finally pulled herself back together and Mitch found her, you just knew how that one was going to play out, but for her sake, I hoped I was wrong (which, of course, I wasn't). By the end of the film, I was just sitting there, hoping that nothing would get in the way of her dream in San Francisco. There was just something so inspirational about Hannah. I won't give away where her journey has taken her up until this point, but I just hope that whatever she may encounter in the future, she keeps that spirit that made her irresistible to watch and root for.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 2:41 a.m. CST

    Did I just see a 'Lonsome Dove' ad?

    by Heckles

    Fuck, Harry. I don't know if these web ad companies are just paying to put whatever they want on the site, but Lonsome Dove? Put down the remote and pick up some dignity for shits sake. At least Kevin Smith is 1) famous enough to sell out and 2) sells out in grand fashion. Don't tease selling out. Either go all the way or don't go at all.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 2:50 a.m. CST


    by SpawnofAchilles

    I agree, Hannah was very inspirational, she let nothing stop her from chasing her dream, you have to respect that in a 17/18 year old...

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 3:05 a.m. CST

    burstein made it a point to befriend these kids

    by Holodigm

    that way they'd feel completely comfortable around the camera. <br><br>going to a Q&A with the kids and/or burstein really puts the film into a lot of perspective. she intentionally went out to find all the archetypes of a high school movie (queen bee, jock, outcast, nerd, etc) to show that these stereotypes actually exist, but are far more complex than what we see in varsity blues. when you find out what happened in megan's past, it is a huge suckerpunch that is directly connected to her urge to get into Notre Dame, and you see her in a completely different light. and calling it derivative or cliché or trying to analyze the plot is hilarious - this is a documentary. these things actually happened to real people, and the fact that people see it almost as a narrative film (and some do, even critics ell oh ell) really drives home the point of the film. <br><br>long story short, i found it to be pretty good, but after the Q&A with the kids i thought it was brilliant.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 3:25 a.m. CST


    by SpawnofAchilles

    some of the film was clearly staged and while the bitch stereotype was somewhat turned on it's ear the jock was a complete cliche that offered nothing new(must get scholarship or enter army, that's pretty black and white) and the nerd was pretty much the same (omg I'm antisocial and lonely and can't find a girl...) not much complexity there... can you elaborate on the Q and A and how it elevated the film?

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 3:28 a.m. CST


    by SpawnofAchilles

    she is the artsy girl with a quirky platonic male friend (cant say if he's gay or not) she did not however get around... she's referenced as having sex one time in the whole film (during one of the most obviously staged moments in the movie)

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 3:43 a.m. CST

    Best movie of the summer - by far!

    by geraldbeans

    This movie puts overrated messes like The Dark Knight to shame. Imagine a film that actually makes you care. Wow!

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 3:56 a.m. CST

    Here's the thing about the Dark Tower....

    by The Eskimo

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 4:02 a.m. CST

    Here's the thing about the Dark Tower....

    by The Eskimo

    It's the one movie they can't aford to screw up. It was written perfectly for the big screen (what with all the slow, build-ups to the main story) and who ever gets tapped to do thins thing (I assume Paramount) will really have to be a literate fucker to get it right. Forget all the other bull shit....the CGI....the stroy is about Roland and how we get to know him throughout the novels. That is the key to the screen play. If they fuck this one up I am done with Hollywood. There is enough old B-movie's out there to keep me occupied for the last few pathetic years of my life.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 4:29 a.m. CST

    You got my attention.

    by halberd

    nothing like reality done right

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 5:11 a.m. CST

    capone has nuts permanently tattooed on his chin

    by bright boy

    i saw this movie at the LA film festival and it is one of those movies where you are praying that every character will die within the first ten minutes, but they dont die and live on for another 90 minutes. then you also have to walk around afterward with the knowledge that these are real people and that makes you want to murder everyone you come into contact with for the next week or so. example of how much ass this movie sucks: the filmmakers try to show us how "strange" the "strange girl" is by staging this scene where she and her homo best friend are dancing in the school hallway in yellow sunglasses. wow, how outrageous. they never actually say the best friend is a homo, but you know for sure because a.) he's doesn't bang her and everyone else does and b.) when he starts crying when she's leaving town at the end, hugs her and whispers in his gay dude voice "youre my best friend". if 90 minutes of that sort of bull shit sound good to you, then by all means... take the dildo out of your ass and go see this movie!

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 5:20 a.m. CST

    Spontaneous 'reality' moment: Take two...

    by MaxTheSilent

    Fuck this shit!

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 6:49 a.m. CST

    I'll admit the Hannah chick is adorable, but

    by TheSeeker7

    Yea I remember catching the trailer for this a few months back (maybe even on here) and she was super cute, but why do I get the feeling that based on what I already know about these kids, I'll also not be at all surprised by ANYTHING that they do or what happens to them in this doc? Already the rich popular princess seems pretty easy to figure out why she is how she is. This is seeming to merely enforce these stereotypes that much further.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 7:15 a.m. CST

    Why is everyone on this site crazy about this movie?

    by rbatty024

    This looks like a variation on what you can see every week on reality television. Ninety minutes of a bunch of teens feeling sorry for themselves? I'll pass.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 8:49 a.m. CST

    Damn, now I have to see it

    by erykthedead

    That basketball game in the trailer was filmed my high school gym. Amazed they still use the damn thing after 20 years. For the record LOTS of us get out of small town Indiana Hannah, Indianapolis is still one of the best cities I've lived in.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 9:03 a.m. CST

    I Love A Good Documentary

    by Broseph

    It really is a great artform.I just recently saw murderball and super high me

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 9:20 a.m. CST

    You know what else is a great documentary?

    by Garbageman33

    The Hills.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 9:27 a.m. CST

    Documentaries that are actually worth your time

    by Garbageman33

    Unlike this MTV True Life piece of tripe, there are some really good under-the-radar documentaries you can find on netflix. Try Sister Helen, about a tough-talking Benedictine nun who runs a halfway house for recovering addicts. Bus 174, about a bus hijacking in Rio de Janiero and the subsequent police standoff. And, best of all, Blindsight, about a group of blind Tibetan teens who, with the help of a group of Americans, attempt to scale Mount Everest. Oh, and one more. Summercamp, about a group of kids (REAL kids, not archetypes) spending two weeks at sleepaway camp in Wisconsin. It includes a couple great unreleased songs by the Flaming Lips.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 10:03 a.m. CST

    man on wire

    by bright boy

    there, i gave you all a good alternative if you have to see a good doc this summer. dont be afraid to call aicn on all the payola bullshit they keep throwing at us these days. theres nothing wrong with them trying to turn tricks for money, just dont let yourself be one of the tricks. THIS JUST IN: capone had the tattoo of nuts removed from his chin and got kevin smith's nuts permanently sewn on instead.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 11:47 a.m. CST

    Didn't Werner Herzog release a film this Summer.

    by rbatty024

    I believe it was called Encounters at the End of the World. There's another alternative to this trite shite.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 12:18 p.m. CST

    I was disappointed

    by CoffeeShop

    I saw the film last week and was a bit disappointed in it. Maybe because of all the hype surrounding it before the screening. I just found myself let down with the film they ended up with, knowing they had 1,000 hours of footage to work with. For instance, they say in the intro narrative that this is a conservative christian town. But they don't make any reference back to that after that mention. For instance, with that intro I would have liked to see them at least touch on Hannah's being an atheist with a gay best friend and how that plays a role in her not fitting in. I thought overall it was just didn't live up to the hype. I thought it had the potential to be a much more interesting movie with the stories they glossed over or chose not to tell than the ones they ended up telling.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 12:18 p.m. CST

    the man on wire trailer

    by SpawnofAchilles

    played before american teen and it does look fuckin awesome, love a good doc.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 2:09 p.m. CST

    Teenagers are the most useless members of society

    by chrth

    There, now you don't need to see a documentary.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 3:41 p.m. CST


    by sloanist

    thanks for suggesting your trade, garbage. gosh, those are all hard-hitting docs you recommended. I've seen them all and they're all average, below average. Garbageman says: "This shit dumb MTV shit, you wanna see what the world really like I show you! It ugly!" Get over yourself, go back and watch Harlan County to see how it's done. BTW, American Teen was better than two of the three you suggested.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 4:36 p.m. CST


    by Garbageman33

    Do you also prefer The Hills to The Wire? And no, mentioning a 30 year old documentary doesn't suddenly give you added credibility.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 4:56 p.m. CST

    Average or below average?

    by Garbageman33

    Just did a little checking on rottentomatoes. Bus 174 is 100% fresh (72 out of 72 critics). Blindsight is 97% fresh. And Sister Helen is at 92%. In fact, out of 123 reviews of the three movies combined, 121 of them were positive. Say what you want about the reliability of rottentomatoes, but that seems pretty tough to argue.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 5:47 p.m. CST

    Sombody already reviewed this film some time ago.

    by GQtaste

    About six months ago or something like that.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 5:53 p.m. CST

    Capone also went nuts for Paris Hilton too.

    by GQtaste

    It was an embarrassment the way he acted around that tramp. And it should how much of a star fucker he could be for a shallow piece of shit. that's not even talented in slightest. Has no redeeming qualities to speak of.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 6:48 p.m. CST

    This sounds insufferable

    by Rupee88

    The review made it sound questionable then the Talkback comments made it clear...I agree that people aren't going to be "real" with a camera in their face, especially attention-whore teens.

  • Aug. 2, 2008, 8:44 p.m. CST


    by bright boy

    i admit i got lazy. it seems like they post something for this movie everyday. someone at mtv is seriously greasing their palms on this one. which is understandable as it's only made about 60,000 so far. here's something new about the movie. the nerdy dude meets some chick on myspace (who he pretends he met on vacation somewhere) and he asks her if he want to go to prom with him and be in this movie and be famous, and he probably did it thinking she was going to be fine like in her profile pics, but she's fat and ugly and he's still stoked. and they play it off like it's some great love story triumph in this dude's life, but they are setting him up for years of future predatory internet behavior by this creep. it's already started and his handle is chocolatereign and he loves giving rim jobs because his uncle used to molest him by shitting in his mouth and telling him it was chocolate (hence the screenname) and so he thinks he's eating chocolate everytime he licks asshole. is that new enough for you, cock master?

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 2:08 a.m. CST

    American Teen aka Anything on MTV

    by andrew coleman

    Fuck this movie I'd rather see Tropic Thunder that looks more "real" than this.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 8:35 a.m. CST

    Hey retards

    by geraldbeans

    This movie was the best documentary I've ever seen. What makes me laugh is when people complain about the students being cliche or stereotypes. IT'S A DOCUMENTARY. Yes, sure they can bend and twist things the way they want, but growing up in the reality age, you're a moron if you can't figure out when they're doing this. And in this movie, it's minimal. Oh, and retards, once you've had a camera following you around for two weeks, you start forgetting that it's there. I know this from experience. Go watch that 2 and a half hour bloated overrated "epic" with about the dumbest storyline I've ever seen in a comic book movie: Two-Face (who the fuck cares about that guy anyway??) and cheer excitedly when him and his mummy returns face inexplicably threaten to kill a little boy (cause that makes sense - lol) and then wonder why a 180 million dollar movie ends with a 3-way hostage argument that you can see in any episode of Jericho. Oh, and skip the snappy comeback. I won't be back to this thread. Go see this film! It's great!

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 11:49 a.m. CST

    Good strategy, geraldbeans

    by Garbageman33

    Insulting people is a great way to get people to listen to your recommendations. I'm already checking my local listings to see when the next showing is. By the way, if this is the best documentary you've ever seen, I have to assume you're either seven years old or the only documentary you've ever seen is March of the Penguins. Have you ever heard of Hoop Dreams? Grey Gardens?

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 12:22 p.m. CST


    by bright boy

    its a T2 face, not a mummy returns face you plant piece of shit. thin blue line? capturing the freidmans? hands on a hard body? all superior documentaries.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 12:58 p.m. CST

    Calling this the best documentary ever made

    by Garbageman33

    Is like calling "Gloria" with Sharon Stone the best mob movie ever made.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 1:25 p.m. CST

    Teenagers Are Boring

    by LaserPants

    Seriously, is there really that much more to say about teenagers? Yes, we know, they're cliquish, self-obsessed, irritating, obnoxious, often depressed and/or angry, violent, directionless, boring, bored, and stupid. Who cares? We've all gone through it, and thankfully, some of us make it.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 1:26 p.m. CST


    by LaserPants

    Would top my list of the best documentaries. Followed closely by GREY GARDENS.

  • The anal rape of Madonna's over-weight hair woman (Mama Make-up) alone makes it the best over.

  • Aug. 3, 2008, 5:27 p.m. CST


    by Bricktops hammer

    No one said anything about Dark Tower. Drink much?

  • Aug. 4, 2008, 8:54 a.m. CST

    Big deal

    by bingo the clown

    So someone remade The Breakfast Club with real people.