Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Independent
Opens locally Friday, August 5th, 2011
Run time: 1 hour 33 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Brett Jacobsen
Written & Directed by David Robert Mitchell (feature-film debut)
Once every so often a movie comes along that changes things. In the small, new film The Myth of the American Sleepover - a film shot entirely in Michigan - the teen coming-of-age story is given the grown-up treatment, and the result is nothing short of refreshing cinematic wonder.
Wonder is one word that describes a teenager's journey into adulthood. The film's premise begins on familiar ground, taking place over the course of one night, on the last weekend of summer before the new school year. We follow 4 individuals, who's stories overlap yet are brilliantly and gently juggled. We feel like we've seen movies like this before, nostalgic teen movies from the likes of John Hughes in the 80s...it's American Graffiti volume 2. These teens need some alcohol, are looking to get laid, and are struggling to find themselves, and we brace ourselves for American Pie-like silliness that has become a staple of the genre.
But that's where Myth takes a detour. Instead of that horny teen angst, these teens are treated with an innocent and almost poetic spirit. Sure, they have first kisses, crushes, some drinks, and do what teenagers do, but there is no sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The movie is unique in focusing on how these teens are feeling instead of what they're doing. We've all been there...that stage in life where we know it all, only to find out years later that we didn't know the half of it. Michigan-born filmmaker David Robert Mitchell is more interested in human connection and emotion than he is in who got drunk and who did what. Life doesn't always...in fact very rarely...turns out as planned, and no movie that I can recall captures that wide-eyed hopeful expectation quite like this film.
The layered story is true and simple, and so perfectly balanced that the ensemble cast of mostly first-time actors can only be mentioned together. They are all great, and when their inexperience shows through, it only goes to serve their characters. There are a few standouts amongst the group, namely Claire Sloma as Maggie. Watching her and the others in this film, it was magical, and I could see The Myth of the American Sleepover being thought of years from now as an important film, if for nothing more than it launching fabulous careers. Think back to the importance of 80s films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, St. Elmo's Fire, and The Breakfast Club as launching the careers of many future stars, and this movie will be mentioned right along side.
One character, Scott (Brett Jacobsen), is the lone grown-up in the film. He's on the other side of the fence, somebody who, like many of us, found out that the real world was not at all like we thought it would be like through the goggles of high school. His story gives weight to the rest of the teens in the film...we all know that high school is never as important as it was when you were there. Scott longs for his youth, for another chance to make some different decisions...what would have happened if he would have made a few different choices. The other teens are in the midst of making these choices as we watch...the touching part is that we know for some, these moments will be regrets, and for others, they will be some of the best times they will ever have.
The real draw here is the script, and how delicate it was translated to the screen. It has a nostalgic feel, a timeless modern-classic that contains more than just lines and scenes. Anybody who knows movies knows that it is a team-effort to pull off a successful film, but rarely do all of the parts work in lock-step to enhance each other. When a great script is given such a graceful treatment on screen, and when actors bring moments and idiosyncracies that could not have possibly been planned, it's my job as a critic to applaud the achievement. You will too.
Is the movie for everybody? It's an independent film that examines what it is like to be a teenager, and debunks many of the myths associated with that growing up period. It dissects the exact moment when a child becomes a teen, or when an teen becomes an adult. The title itself, The Myth of the American Sleepover is a bit clunky and awkward, just like our characters and just like ourselves when we were younger. The myth continues in that we as adults still think we know it all...we just long for a time in our lives where it was still acceptable to think like that.
The Myth of the American Sleepover is important in that it re-packages the teenage coming-of-age drama for a different type of audience...instead of celebrating the carefree craziness of youth and appealing to teenagers, it instead sheds a gentle, compelling light on what it means to grow up. When did we go from a teen to an adult, and more importantly what did that feel like? David Robert Mitchell's first film puts a finger as close to the mark as possible.
NOTE: THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER writer/director David Robert Mitchell, producer Adele Romanski and other members of the cast and crew will be in attendance for Q&As after the 7:15 showings and introductions before the 9:45 showings on Friday, August 5th and Saturday, August 6th at Landmark’s Main Art Theatre
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