The Myth of the American Sleepover
Film review by: Witney Seibold
The teenagers in David Robert Mitchell‘s “The Myth of the American Sleepover” are real people.
As a teenager growing up in Los Angeles, I often found myself resenting a lot of teen dramas geared toward my demographic, as they always took place in Middle-America public school, where there was a complex caste system in place, and the characters all fulfilled some broad stereotype (jock, queen bee, nerd, “sensitive” type) that I could relate to. It was like some studio execs watched John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club,” and decided that was the template for a decade’s worth of movies. In refreshing contrast, the kids in “The Myth of the American Sleepover” seem to behave the way real teenagers do. That is: not really sure what they’re doing, not necessarily eloquent, and perfectly willing to toe the line of dangerous behavior, provided the emotional payoff will be great. There is an unsureness to the kids’ action that I could relate to, and it was nice to see a movie about teenagers where the conversations weren’t all about pop culture, the conceits weren’t of the protracted sitcom variety, and the sex talk wasn’t pointedly course (which some filmmakers mistake for “edgy.” This is not a film about Big Moments, or easily digestible nuggets of lesson-learning. This is a film about real people.
How will teenagers react to a film like this? Positively, I think. Perhaps they’re tired of teen movies where everything is bland and polished, and the teens all talk like Hollywood screenwriters. Perhaps they are looking for something that is a bit more soulful and a bit more emotionally honest. Teens deserve great films about them, and this film will tap into something very personal for everyone. It is universal, it is true, and it’s very, very sweet.
It is the last night of summer vacation, and the kids in a small town in Michigan have all decided to have sleepovers. The boys eat pizza and watch slasher flicks. The girls gab about boys, braid one another’s hair, and play with a Ouija board. And, since they are all teenagers, there seems to be romantic and sexual tension in between every single one of the characters. Know, though, that the sexual tension is not of the creepy Larry Clark variety, and seems to stem directly from the romantic longings and hormonal bouillabaisse that all teenagers must experience. The laconic Rob (Marlon Morton) is trying desperately to locate – “American Graffiti-”style – the hot blonde he saw at the grocery store that morning. The spunky Maggie (Claire Sloma) is only 14, but has the hots for a cute older boy, mildly to the chagrin of her tiny best friend (Annette DeNoyer). Scott (Brett Jacobsen), home from college, is in the middle of a romantic crisis, that he feels can only be solved by reuniting with the Abby twins (Jade and Nikita Ramsay) whom he used to have a crush on in high school. The quiet Claudia (Amanda Bauer) is going through a romantic crisis of her own, and will take issue with her boyfriend before dawn.
The actors are all little-known faces, and this serves the film greatly. These are not prettyboys and wannabe ingenues. These are kids that are good-looking in the way your peers were good looking back in high school. They talk in that awkward way that teenagers do, desperately wanting to say something important, but only barely behind the cusp of being able to. They’re smart kids, too, who only happen to occasionally do stupid things. Like we all did.
The film’s soundtrack is loaded with indie pop hits, but they are unrecognizable sings by new artists. There is a tendency with teen flicks to use a film’s soundtrack as yet another selling point. “The Myth of the American Sleepover” actually uses its music to make a point, establish a mood, and indicate when these kids are living. There are no obvious musical cues, just good songs.
An interesting details that is worth noting: none of the kids in this film use cellular telephones at any point. You may notice. For the first few minutes of the film, I began to wonder if the film took place in the present or not. It was kind of jarring to see, in one shot, that someone had a CD collection. When telephone numbers are given, the kids write them down on their arms with pens. When they’re lost in the neighborhood, the kids are content to wander aimlessly. They are more interested in talking, playing games, TPing houses. It’s nice to see kids behaving like kids rather than obsessing over technology the way so many movie teens seem to; there is more to life than consumer electronics and making references to pop culture.
You title is explained in a sweet speech about how much fun you had as a kid. This is a film that seems to be honest, warm and relevant, but still captures a universal sense of nostalgia. What a sweet movie.