‘American Teen’: Whatever

Constance Gorfinkle

The lightweight documentary "American Teen'' focuses on a group of Midwestern high school seniors as they struggle against angst, anxiety and acne in this, their final year, before embarking on the great unknown – college.

 Though billed as a documentary, which would suggest authenticity and genuine drama, director Nanette Burstein’s exposé feels about as real as what has become known as "reality television,'' those shows that purport to be real but are as scripted as "E.R.''

The first evidence of that is Burstein’s "cast,'' a careful mix of teenage "types.'' Those include the rich, mean girl, Megan; the pimpled geek, Colin; the jock who’s trying to live up to high expectations; and the nonconformist, Hannah, who shortly after the film opens is dumped by her longtime boyfriend, sending her spiraling into a deep depression.

Though necessarily episodic, as Burstein tries to give each kid equal time to dramatize his or her story, she still wants to deliver a coherent scenario involving the whole crew, which requires some obvious manipulation (read editing) of the material.

Though, for some reason, "American Teen'' was a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, there’s little here to engage or inform the audience. These kids may be representative of their generation, but, so what. Yours are, too. Because they’re typical, there are no surprises. They are ordinary in the blandest way. They can be hurtful to one another; they have sex; they drink, but nothing suggests they’re on wayward paths to self-destruction.

Only two of them have genuine goals: Megan must get into Notre Dame, and Colin must win an athletic scholarship to college.

There is, however, one person in this film who is so charming, so appealing, so interesting, she almost makes the 95 minutes worth sitting through.

That is Hannah, a genuine find, if she’s interested in an acting career. As adorable and with a personality as winning as any teenage star performing today, she lights up "American Teen'' with an irresistible effervescence that makes you look for her in every scene.

This film opens in Boston on Friday, Aug. 1.

The Patriot Ledger