Tuesday 28 August 2012

Teenage dreams: "The Myth of the American Sleepover"

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell's debut feature The Myth of the American Sleepover is teen movie done as high-school chemistry experiment or history class. It takes the kind of quiet American town seen in Richard Linklater's early films, populates it with the fresh faces and non-professionals one usually finds working for Larry Clark or Gus van Sant, and then films these kids with the lightness of a French New Wave observer. We're watching a typical evening in the summer holidays unfolding before us, ripe with possibility. The girls pal around, gossip and connect; the guys gather in sullen silence or snickering, rewinding topless scenes on old VHSes or pawing over pin-up magazines. You could wonder why the Internet doesn't seem to have reached this part of the world, but the idea is that these rituals - the new experiences and missed opportunities of this formative period; the longing glances and vomiting in flowerbeds - are somehow timeless, in the movies, as in life.

Yes, these could be Linklater's kids, but then they could also be the beauty queens and putative slackers of The Last Picture Show or American Graffiti, 1970s films set ten, twenty years before that. Despite fine work from its young cast, who are credibly gauche and gawky (and self-possessed and precocious, in the case of the girls), Mitchell's film isn't quite revelatory, and perhaps can't be, given the extent to which this terrain has been poked and prodded and generally worked over. What bubble up, and maybe stay with you, are its hazy recollections of moments seized and lost; its inchoate intimacies, initiated by characters who want to get close to one another, but don't yet know how to achieve it. It's a sweet little treatise on the value of those experiences you gather when you're young, and its more expansive set-pieces - a moonlit skinnydipping party, a lovelorn college student's breach of what looks to be the world's biggest sleepover, which gives the film both its title and a sense lasting memories are being created - go to illustrate the truth that, at that age, most of us are stumbling around in the dark. Hell, some of us still are.

The Myth of the American Sleepover opens in selected cinemas from Friday.

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