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"American Teen"

Directed by Nanette Burstein.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  7/2/08


A study of today's teenagers always gets my attention, because even though I finished high school a mere fifteen years ago (wait, "mere"??), the kids of the right now are night-and-day different in many ways than my years growing up and attending Wootton High School in lovely Rockville, MD...and, in a few ways--cliques, for one--high school never seems to change.  Even though its test subject couldn't be more bland--a nearly-all-white, socially conservative high school in tiny Warsaw, Indiana--"American Teen" still works thanks to a decent set of profiled senior students and the essentials that never get old.

Those essentials?  How about the misunderstood outcast (Hannah), who dreams of leaving the conservative town of Warsaw to make a name for herself in San Francisco, where all misunderstood outcasts go?  We also get the school jock (Colin), jonesing for a college basketball scholarship because its his only way "out"; the band geek (Jake), whose acne is so awful you can almost pop his zits from your seat; and, naturally, The Coolest Girl in School (Megan), whose family is pushing for her to attend Notre Dame, which is the backdrop for her senior year, in between so many activities she barely has time to remember who her friends are.

What makes "American Teen" work is hardly its originality (of which there is none) or its decision to profile "America's Teenagers" at a school that doesn't quite look or sound like the America that I know.  No, it's that the film is really, really funny at times, thanks to the candid conversations Jake and Hannah have throughout the course of their final year in high school.  It's never really that sad, but it is occasionally biting to watch high school kids make fun of other kids in the ways we remember growing up--mainly, embarrassment, awkward break-up conversations (none better than a text message one of our heroes gets late in the film), and being reamed by parents who want to see their kids live out the dreams of the PARENTS, not the kids.

It's not perfect, but "American Teen" works as an entertaining throwaway that takes you back to that time when it seemed like everything was a big ball of stress.  And, the scenes featuring Hannah and Jake work on a thousand levels, balancing the blah stories of Megan and Colin.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09