US, 2008, 95 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Nanette Burstein.
A documentary that plays like a feature film, following five principal characters through their final high school year. It really does not tell us anything new about American teens, nothing that we have not seen in many films. It is how the film was shot and edited is very interesting.
Nanette Burstein decided she would spend a year in a mid-west town with only one high school which served as a centre for the whole town. Finally, she chose Warsaw, Indiana, an ordinary town, very much a white town, with some wealthy families but, more or less, middle America.
She chose five students whose stories seemed interesting and varied and who were willing to share their stories with her. She must have gained their trust because they are filmed throughout the year, frequently in close-up (sometimes the director used a small camera rather than a crew) and speak their minds and emotions very directly and intimately indeed.
The five students are what we might expect. The main focus is on Hannah who feels a misfit in this conservative town and wants to go to film school on the West Coast. Her parents, loving in their way, live away from home and she stays with her grandmother. She has an enormous emotional crisis when she is dumped by her boyfriend and can't face school. The opposite is Megan, from a rich family who would be at home in the clique in Mean Girls, though she is not as mean as all that. She presumes that things will always go her way.
The boys are quite a mixed bunch. Colin is the basketball star who hopes for a sports scholarship. His father (who is an Elivs impersonator) eggs him on but has the good sense finally to see that his advice and pressure is not the best. Jake has to be the most acne-faced teenager you will ever see on film. He has been typed as a geek and has taken refuge in shyness and acceptance of the geeky self-image even though he wants to break out of it and display a bit of wild side. Mitch is the inevitable prom king type who ventures into having Hannah as a girlfriend and then blows it.
The director checked each day with how the five were faring in their stories and so knew which one to be with during the day. Then, using the calender year at school with seasons, basketball matches, socials and prom, with graduation at the end as the framework, she edited the hundreds of hours of film shot. Apart from the usual preoccupations, emotional immaturity and growth, the succumbing to peer opinion if not pressure and the expected behaviour of teens, they are not too bad a group.
1.The impact of the documentary? An impact like a feature film and its narrative and characters?
2.The work of the director, selecting the town, selecting the students, getting their trust, spending a year with them, following each of their stories, discussions and intimacy, the selecting and editing of the footage? The insertion of the animation to indicate their fantasies and dreams?
3.The explanation for the choice of Warsaw, Indiana? The Midwest, race issues, minimal? Class issues? Expectations?
4.The town population, the one high school, the campus and its view, the students, their clothes, manners, talk? The classrooms, the cafeteria? The basketball area? Basketball and the town and its loyalties? The celebrations, the prom? An authentic feel? Audiences identifying and/or observing the characters?
5.The range of the year, the seasons, the students’ development, the celebrations, the competitiveness, the basketball competitions? The pressure for graduation and college entry?
6.The parents in the background, Hannah’s mother and her depression, living away from home? Her father and his work interstate, his concern? The father and his helping his daughter? Their both giving advice at the end? Colin’s father, the pressure on his success at basketball, scoring? His being an Elvis impersonator? His change of advice later and pride in Colin? Megan, her wealthy background? Jake, the glimpse of his mother, his brother in San Diego in the military, and his taking Jake out for a night on the town?
7.Hannah’s story: feeling the outsider, wanting to leave, ambitions for film school, antagonism towards conservative attitudes? Her parents and their absence, their presence and their advice? Living with her grandmother, her grandmother’s friends? At school, the friend and support? Her relationship with Joel, in love, expectations, the sexual encounter, the immediate break-up, her emotional collapse, avoiding school for so long, her father driving her to school, her not wanting to go, the interview with the principal, her eventually going back to class? The meeting with Mitch, happy with him, the others looking down on her? His break-up by text? The prom, her friend going with her, the dress, success? Her parents and the advice about college? Going to San Francisco, getting a job, returning, going to New York to study?
8.Colin, one of the school jocks, as a personality, the pressure of his father, his father’s ambitions? His father as the Elvis impersonator, wanting Colin to be one, Colin’s not wanting it? Colin playing, scoring, his friends, the locker room? His college aims and the scholarship? The defeat and the reaction of the town, his depression in the cafeteria? The dent to his self-image? His father advising him for teamwork, the practice, the matches, winning, his pride in being a team member, the scouts talking with him, success? The other members of the team – and the African American in the group?
9.Mitch, one of the jocks, his peers, with Hannah, people criticising him for going out with her, texting the end of the relationship? His change of heart at the end and learning from the experience?
10.Megan, her wealthy family, the Mean Girls' attitude? Her clique, her friends, her reactions to her friends, bossing, gossip? Successful, the aim to go to Notre Dame, the discussions about it and life there? Her clash with Erica and the boyfriend? Manipulating people?
11.Jake, the extent of his acne, low self-image, the detail of his room, computer games, himself as a computer game hero? Admitting he was a geek, putting himself down? In class, his locker? His discussion about girls, wanting a wild side, his being ignored? The new girl, inviting her out, talking, bonding, she going off with the other boy, the break-up, not going to the prom? Going to San Diego, his aims, his brother wanting him to be wasted, his drinking, behaviour, with the girls? The young girl visiting Chicago, going to the prom with him, his happiness? Still open at the end?
12.The other characters, Erica and her boyfriend, the group at school, the cross-section of Americans?
13.How much insight and/or confirmation of attitudes towards American teens?
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