The Myth of the American Sleepover

22 Aug

Title: The Myth of the American Sleepover
Year: 
2011
Director: 
David Robert Mitchell
Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: 
Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Claire Sloma, Brett Jacobsen, Nikita Ramsey, Jade Ramsey
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
93 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 
77%

I kind of sort of loved every little thing about The Myth of the American Sleepover, a tremendously good debut feature-length film by writer-director David Robert Mitchell. Seriously, this is just a lovely film to watch and lose yourself in, and that’s because it’s all kinds of true, I mean, we get to watch these kids during a long night at the end of summer in a small city in Michigan, and with them Mr. Robert Mitchell deconstructs the myth the title of the film refers to, because the film focusses on a couple of teenage summer sleepovers and parties and lakeside gatherings that have long been associated with sex and drugs and booze, and yet we get a very tender and effective look at the fact that it’s not as all-out wild as it sounds, but it’s actually a much more innocent affair.

You get all of those things you encounter as you approach adolescence: smoking, sex, liking someone, having someone like you, having someone you like not like you back. But this film doesn’t present all of these things in a way it has been done before, it never once wants to exploit those facts to get some sort of graphic or teasing scene that will make it all seem superb or extraordinary, no, if The Myth of the American Sleepover feels extraordinary it’s solely on the basis of how ordinary the lives it presents are. And that’s because Mr. Robert Mitchell doesn’t shy away from acknowledging something few films like these acknowledge, and those that do acknowledge it do so to make fun of it, but it’s something The Myth of the American Sleepover just recognizes it as a basic truth, and that’s the fact that these teenagers are just confused.

Like I said, some films of the type do take a big long look at the fact that teens are confused, but they do so in order to attain some sort of melodramatic look at the youthful period of life, to make it seem as though it’s dangerous being a teen. This film is not like that at all, a character in the movie actually goes ahead and says that adolescence isn’t that much of a wild ride and that all of those movies and stories convince you to give up your childhood for something that really isn’t what it’s cracked up to be at all. And that’s one of the things Mr. Robert Mitchell gets impeccably right, the fact that teenagers can give statements like that, statements that are deep while still absolutely embedded in some sort of naïvety that’s endearing to watch be displayed so perfectly. Seriously, this is a coming-of-age story like all those typical movies are, that much is true, but the way it’s told, with a fresh sort of insight into the dealings we’ve heard so much about before makes it all seem like it’s brand new territory we’re exploring here.

In the course of the long night during which the film takes place we get to meet a lot of young people, all of whom share very similar objectives, the most general, and deepest of which is to connect with someone in a significant level. That aim is dealt with with these kids trying to hook up with a specific person, with them trying to go to all the parties available in their neighborhood. We have Maggie, this lovely blonde with a pixie haircut who feels she hasn’t done enough with her summer and wants to leave an impression, there’s also Scott, who’s become fascinated with a blonde named Avalina, and Rob, who wants to sleep with twin sisters (or at least just one of them) and has a comic confusion about which twin is which. These are all different objectives and they obviously work to make the film tremendously fun and to give us insight into all of these characters that are played by young actors, who in their majority are making their debuts here as well, but once you get to the core of it it’s all about trying to experience a sense of belonging, and that’s an infinitely relatable theme that drives this film.

The tact Mr. Robert Mitchell shows when tackling all of these stories is also utterly delightful, he knows what to make fun of, what sort of teenage self-discoveries to point the amusing parts of, but when it’s all said and done this is a writer-director who above all is quite compassionate in how he treats these stories. This is a film that deals with a group of characters experiencing events and feelings that are totally specific in detail and depth, and that yet are at their core incredibly timeless and easy to identify with, a film that’s really all about observation, helmed by a guy who’s wonderfully good at it and who I can’t wait to see what he does next. And in observing very ordinary events the film discovers some very substantial things, but never makes any sort of grandiose statement about them. This film isn’t perfect, there are a couple of things that I guess could be better, and sometimes you could tell these kids weren’t experienced professional actors, but adolescence isn’t perfect either, and, if anything, that whole awkward acting vibe adds to it all.

Grade: B+

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