Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Myth of the American Sleepover

THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (David Robert Mitchell, 2010)

For teenagers in a Michigan suburb the end of summer is a time for regretting the fun not enjoyed and worrying about what is to come with a new school year. In THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER overnight parties around town provide the opportunity to relish the season’s last idle day. Incoming high school freshmen Maggie (Claire Sloma) and Beth (Annette DeNoyer) ditch a sleepover in search of slightly older guys at a party being thrown by Steven (Douglas Diedrich), a junior they’ve admired while he works at the pool.

Rob (Marlon Morton) will also be starting high school soon. Rather than hanging out with the guys watching movies and egging houses, he wants to comb the neighborhoods for a blonde girl he was checking out at the grocery store. Sophomore Claudia (Amanda Bauer) is relatively new to the area and hopes to make friends at a sleepover that junior Janelle (Shayla Curran) is holding. College senior Scott (Brett Jacobsen) is moping about an ended relationship and decides to track down twin sisters Ady and Anna Abbey (Nikita Ramsey and Jade Ramsey) because one of them might have had a crush on him years ago.

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER and his subsequent film IT FOLLOWS share an observational style regarding adolescent American vulnerabilities, thematic similarities, and locations. Although THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER sticks to slice of teenage life than the sliced and stalked teens in IT FOLLOWS, both explore the quiet terror felt during this transformative time. Characters in both films express a longing for the innocence that they have lost or recognize will be diminishing as they grow toward adulthood. Because MYTH adopts DAZED AND CONFUSED-like drop-ins with the town’s youths rather than taking on horror movie form, a wistful quality permeates the tone.

Mitchell excels at capturing fear and confusion about the future, especially when it’s bound up with hormones and urges in overdrive. The characters in MYTH are all sorting through social pressures and biological changes that make this such an emotionally perilous period. Humor from situational recognition of pokes out occasionally, although any cringing on the viewer’s part comes more from dramatic matters than comedic ones. Identifying with these teens comes more easily as Mitchell strives for a timeless feel by eliminating technological signifiers that would place it in any particular year or decade.

For all of the anxiety associated with passing through adolescence, anticipation and infatuations can make it exciting. Why else are these years more mythologized in art than others? THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER conveys a keen understanding of how kids at this time are trying out appearances and personalities and gradually ease into finding themselves. None of the kids or young adults have a firm conception of what they want or would like to be, and clearly nothing is going to be settled after the one night depicted. Mitchell studies the attrition through courage and cowardice that leads to self-definition. The cumulative effect of his film results in compassion for the beauty and volatility of youth.

Grade: B-