On Wednesday, we were invited out to see the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary film American Teen, as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival.
A couple notes to set the scene before we discuss the film.
First, as we've mentioned before, as a general rule we've never really been film buffs. But a carve out to this is documentary films. We're more likely to go see a documentary that generates lots of buzz than any other genre of film.
Second, this might be a very obvious point, but Los Angeles knows how to do film festivals. The screening was held at the Ford Ampitheater, nestled in the Hollywood Hills. It's like a miniature Greek Theater (blogged about here). Here's the view as we first entered:
LA is usually stunningly beautiful during the day, but then the temperature drops precipitously at night. However, one of the positive residual effects of the recent LA Heat Wave has been warm summer nights. So the scenery and weather left a big impression for the festival to fill.
Luckily, the fest was up to the task. First, before the screening, Sunny Day Sets Fire (blogged about here and here) performed a set. They have a song that appears in the film. This is probably the biggest crowd they've ever played in front of. They really took advantage of the setting.
Second, they had lots for people to eat and drink. Despite this, we ran into a very talented photographer who bought us a beer. The point of all of this is to say that the crowd was in a very jovial mood.
Finally, and the point of this post, the movie was amazing.
The film follows the lives of several high school seniors in Warsaw, Ind.
This sentence, alone, will probably be the root of all criticisms you will read about the film.
First, it will lead to uncontrollable preconceived notions/mental protests from anybody who was college-aged or younger starting in roughly 1992. Will the film, these people will wonder, actually capture the lives of these students, or will the students, trained by years of Real World begets Road Rules begets Survivor begets Laguna Beach begets The Hills and friendster begets myspace begets facebook begets blogger ubiquity use the cameras to push their agendas just like Puck and Pedro used the cameras to promote the rights of booger eaters and AIDS sufferers, respectively, during Real World San Francisco?
This concern, while never completely leaving our mind, was not much of a concern in the end, owing primarily to the fact that Nanette Burstein proves to be an incredibly thoughtful, humane, non-judgmental, talented filmmaker.
The second criticism we anticipate is that the film merely highlights the uselessness and frivolity of the modern American public high school system and the modern American teen; that a generation of complacent kids will cause America to lag behind in the global economic race for ... well, whatever it is, exactly, that we're globally and economically racing for. This, like the Real World Question, we ultimately dismiss because all of the students featured in fact display big ambitions. The ends of the ambitions differ -- getting to college, getting to a college of a particular prestige, getting to a college of a particular geography, becoming less of a nerd and feeling like you fit in, whatever -- but each student shares an equal vigor in reaching those ends.
We don't want to offer too many spoilers to the film; the film is a joy and people should experience it with virgin eyes. So we'll just say that it runs the gamut of emotions:
- At least three times we began crying (including near the end when we had to do that guy thing of quickly, but discreetly, rubbing our eyes in an attempt to dry them before the lights came up -- "we're cool, we're cool, good movie, should we head out now, wanna grab another beer, we're cool, really, stop looking at us," etc. etc.).
- At least a half dozen times we burst into laughter, literal bursts such that we had to check the person sitting in front of us to see if we had spit on them.
- We cringed out of embarrassment at the behavior of both parent and child.
- We sighed heavily out of righteous indignation at the obnoxiousness of both parent and child.
- Our hearts burst with optimism for the future when we saw a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The crowd on Wednesday -- the "jaded hollywood set" -- was as animated as any movie crowd we've ever experienced. And this movie will certainly play well in the Midwest -- it's filmed there, and as midwesterns we saw a lot of our high school selves in the picture. We fully expect this film to be the break out star of the late-summer movie season.