American Teen

The characters in American Teen seem like stock figures from a high school comedy: It’s Mean Girls, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Revenge of the Nerds. But American Teen is a documentary and the kids are real. Nanette Burstein made American Teen while living for 10 months among a group of high school seniors in Warsaw, Indiana. She filmed the kids constantly, capturing their dreams, struggles, misdeeds and occasional triumphs. The result is a superbly made and absorbing look at modern middle-American youth, concerned with social dynamics and the pressures placed on teenagers by their anxious parents. The stories are dramatic, which makes you wonder whether Burstein was merely lucky to find students whose lives were so interesting or her presence made their lives more poetic. Either way, American Teen is a first-rate documentary. ***1/2
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