I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere in my mid-20’s I grew this abnormal hatred for teenagers. I hate their hormone infested idiocy, their youthful aspirations, their dumb faces, and most importantly, I hate that they remind me of my own mortality. So as a rule of thumb, I avoid most any medium involving high school (that isn’t a John Hughes film).
Then, there was The Myth of the American Sleepover.
The Myth of the American Sleepover follows the kids of a small Detroit suburb on their final day of summer. Some try to get laid, others try to fit in, a couple will get drunk way too easily and most will make sh*tty decisions. Ahh youth.
The thing about The Myth of the American Sleepover is that while providing a fantasy of what high school was or represents, it’s possibly the most genuine the medium of film has ever come across. Director/Writer David Robert Mitchell demonstrates a clear understanding of the high school experience and bypasses all the extra to create a young adult film brimming with charm and nostalgia. Gone are the puerile humor, over-the-top exploitation or awful MTV “buzz words” evident in any teen drama/comedy. Instead, you get a seamlessly timeless exploration on the teen psyche and a deep understanding of the range of emotions that they go through a time where their feelings and hormones don’t make much sense at all.
Much of that accreditation goes to the carefully constructed characters and the situations they hit along the way. Within the film, we have: the girl who’s trying to grow up way to quickly and is confident she can hang; the freshman who lies/brags about girls he’s been with but in reality is obsessed with a nameless girl he met in a super market; the transfer student trying to make sense of high school politics and morality; and the recent college drop out who broke up with his high school sweetheart and hopes to fill the void by trying to bang those twins he knew dug him in high school. Okay fine, perhaps these specific archetypes aren’t the most representative of high school life, but the intertwining stories and use of scenery provide for interesting social situations for the growth of these characters to unfold in one night. Mitchell was graced with a dynamo cast of no name kids that really seem to get it. More often than not, roles like these are often either laid on thick or completely amateurish. With this cast, however, most everybody was able to execute a starry-eyed child going through the motions very subtly without ever having to ham it up.
What also sets this film apart is Mitchell’s keen eye for scenery, creating this bright wasteland that’s both saturated yet popping with vibrancy. Rather than churning out your run of the mill teen drama, use of indie aesthetics along with an array of abandoned buildings, barren pools, poorly lit super markets and makeshift docks provide for a beautiful backdrop for everything to unravel. Maybe it’s because I’m a city boy, but suburbia has never looked as fascinating as it did here, and it’s DETROIT of all places! Have we all confessed our love to another in an abandoned pool with that “We’re gonna live forever!” feeling burning in our gut? Of course not, but it’s still visually stimulating enough to have you put such glorified youth fantasy aside and listen to what’s actually being said.
However, the film isn’t without it’s problems. It often times falls into the same conventions as every other teen movie (over the head morality, blind wonderment, fantastical displays of affection), and it doesn’t help at all that it moves at a slow crawl. Add that with a lack of flow or focus and you get this constant juggling of characters that either shifts too much or doesn’t shift enough.
Still, even with its slow pace and fantastical/exaggerated presentation, The Myth of the American Sleepover has a lot of heart. You won’t find any pregnant teens, drug overdoses or date rape; rather, you get kids simply being kids. It’s not John Hughes or Larry Clark, but rather a happy medium that finds the perfect balance between nostalgia and reality.