American Teen: The YouTube generation gets the movie it deserves

Director Nanette Burstein is so intent here on making a nonfiction version of The Breakfast Club that she erases every trace of documentary convention for most of this pleasing but ultimately unconvincing film. You can imagine what the teen focus groups told Paramount Vantage (“OMG! Documentaries are, like, so totally dull! Those are for school!”), and I’m sure the studio executives held up Frederick Wiseman’s High School as Exhibit A in What Movie Not To Make. Mission accomplished. Burstein finds her Molly Ringwald figure in Hannah Bailey, who provides a suspiciously scripted-sounding voiceover introduction to the film. (Did she write it herself? Did John Hughes write Ringwald’s lines?) Clearly, we are meant to root for Hannah, who wants to leave her Indiana hick town to become an artist—or, better yet, a filmmaker. She and the half-dozen other principals (jock, dork, deb, etc.) were weaned on The Real World, and they have no problem signing consent forms, wearing radio mikes, and discussing their sex lives on camera. There is no such thing as oversharing for this YouTube generation. This is what makes American Teen so problematic for viewers and supposedly responsible older parties, including Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture). The film has been so heavily shaped and edited, just like a Hollywood teen flick, that the manufacturing overwhelms any genuine insight into adolescent life today. What about the kids who didn’t sign the release forms, who don’t dream of reality TV fame, who keep their private lives, well, private? Those we never meet. And that’s a movie Burstein will never make.