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American Teen (2008)



Average Rating: 6.5/10
Reviews Counted: 149
Fresh: 104 | Rotten: 45

American Teen skates some thin ice with its documentary ethics but, in the end, presents a charming and stylish (if packaged) tale.


Average Rating: 7/10
Critic Reviews: 40
Fresh: 31 | Rotten: 9

American Teen skates some thin ice with its documentary ethics but, in the end, presents a charming and stylish (if packaged) tale.



liked it
Average Rating: 3/5
User Ratings: 102,176

My Rating

Movie Info

"American Teen" follows the lives of five teenagers--a jock, a popular girl, a heartthrob, an artsy girl and a geek--in one small town in Indiana through their senior year of high school. We see the insecurities, the cliques, the jealousies, the first loves and heartbreaks, and the struggle to make profound decisions about the future. Filming daily for 10 months, filmmaker Nanette Burstein developed a deep understanding of her subjects. The result is a film that goes beyond the enduring


Documentary, Special Interest

Dec 21, 2008


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Latest News on American Teen

November 11, 2008:
Nanette Burstein Is Going the Distance
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This week at the movies, we learn that the truth is out there (The X-Files: I Want to Believe,...


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All Critics (150) | Top Critics (40) | Fresh (104) | Rotten (45) | DVD (8)

It's a lightly amusing film but it's also an unchallenging one which reinforces presumptions about kids rather than surprising with new insights. It floats in the shallow end of filmmaking.

March 6, 2009 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

My only gripe is that the relentless pressure to be a winner in American culture is exhausting to watch.

November 21, 2008 Full Review Source: MovieTime, ABC Radio National
MovieTime, ABC Radio National
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The whirl of hormones, high hopes and hysterical drama that is high school earns its close-up in American Teen, a smart and revealing look at the Class of 2006 in Warsaw, Indiana.

August 8, 2008 Full Review Source: Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic IconTop Critic

They all have their stories tell, some more complicated than others.

August 8, 2008 Full Review Source: Houston Chronicle
Houston Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

American Teen finds the truth in the trite and the cliched: It's a wonderful look at why growing up is so hard to do.

August 7, 2008
Miami Herald
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A moving and engrossing slice-of-life documentary about teen life in small-town Warsaw, Ind.

August 1, 2008 Full Review Source: Toronto Star
Toronto Star
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The presence of a film crew may have encouraged drama.

August 23, 2012 Full Review Source: Time Out Chicago
Time Out Chicago

It keeps assuring us that all is basically well.

August 15, 2011 Full Review Source: East Bay Express
East Bay Express

It pains me to say it, but as far as I can see it's an extended and slightly better crafted example of those fake 'reality TV' shows.

March 13, 2011 Full Review Source: What Culture
What Culture

American Teen follows the zeitgeist of documentary filmmaking, where truth is manipulated in order to create an entertaining film, which it no doubt is. Yet the question of its authenticity will linger in the minds of some viewers.

July 6, 2010 Full Review Source: Matt's Movie Reviews
Matt's Movie Reviews

An intriguing look -- alternately funny and heartbreaking -- inside the heads of today's teens.

July 27, 2009 Full Review Source: Times-Picayune

In contrast to other recent documentaries about coming of age in America, American Teen seems somewhat simplistic, perhaps naive.

May 26, 2009 Full Review Source:

An addictive documentary that'll have you cheering and crying, then waiting for the director to jump out from behind your sofa and say it was all a big joke.

March 7, 2009 Full Review Source: Film4

Funny and fresh, it won't break boundaries but it will make anyone thankful for growing up.

March 7, 2009
Little White Lies

Anyone who doesn't like it can stay behind after class.

March 7, 2009
Heat Magazine

The tears and laughter are genuine enough, but Berstein's orchestrations make her less of a fly on the wall than a fly in the ointment.

March 7, 2009 Full Review Source: Sky Movies
Sky Movies

Although elements of the movie appear stage managed it is still a very watchable document of everyday lives.

March 7, 2009 Full Review Source: Daily Express
Daily Express

This absorbing doc is a funny, heartbreaking reminder that we're all wounded survivors of the original war zone.

March 7, 2009 Full Review Source: thelondonpaper

Compelling but not especially insightful, this is like watching nine months worth of reality TV in an hour and a half. Parental discretion is advised: if you have teens, this won't cheer you up.

March 6, 2009 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

Despite its flashy approach, American Teen remains emotionally involving because of the lives on show. You will care about these people, even if you suspect the director doesn't.

March 6, 2009 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

The documentary curriculum is sex, gossip and self-pity. Not exactly original, but disturbingly true.

March 6, 2009 Full Review Source: Times [UK]
Times [UK]

This film was for me marred by the persistent suspicion that the director wasn't being entirely straight with us.

March 6, 2009 Full Review Source: Guardian

What makes American Teen so compelling is the way the four are presented. At first they seem like stock stereotypes, but over the course of the movie, we gain a powerful insight into what makes them tick.

March 6, 2009 Full Review Source: Daily Mirror [UK]
Daily Mirror [UK]

Imagine High School Musical 3 without the singing, dancing or perfect teeth.

March 6, 2009 Full Review Source: Sun Online
Sun Online

It is medium-mesmerising, even if we are gnawed by secret shame at watching a glorified reality TV show.

March 6, 2009 Full Review Source: Financial Times
Financial Times

Audience Reviews for American Teen

As I watched the documentary American Teen, my brain kept telling me that this was just another of those posed, fake, "reality" shows. How the heck did the camera get to be in the middle of all intimate moments? In particular there is a scene about 2/3 of the way through in which the camera follows Megan (a snotty female dog who I was really hoping would fail in her quest to go to Notre Dame to please her daddy) as she vandalizes another students' home. As the Vice Principal tells her; since she deemed it necessary to spray paint the word "fag" on the window, her actions could be construed as sexual harassment and worthy of a class C felony. Ok, if you buy that, then the film-maker could certainly be tried as a co-conspirator, having knowledge of her intent and not only doing nothing to stop her, but filming the entire escapade in lovely living color.

But aside from that feeling that much of the events, while "real" were certainly manipulated, and filmed in such a way as to heighten any drama and get the directors' point across, there are certain universal truths here that, while not shocking - having seen this act before in any number of teen films - still maintains a certain earnestness, especially when viewed through the lens of "this is real".

So you have kids behaving like kids, and yet every so often amongst all the confusion, one of the 5 main characters says something profound - giving me hope that perhaps we aren't facing the end of civilization, just a re-adjustment into the land of texting and social networks.

The director, in spite of being a bit heavy handed and overusing the same shot sequence (look closely at the basketball scenes), does show a bit of inventiveness in the use of animated dream sequences - only one of which is really compelling; that of Hannah, the artist and pariah whose dream sequence includes watching her face in a mirror become demonic, flipping back and forth until the faces blur together and then elongate into a Munchian Scream.

There are scenes where I was confused over who was doing or saying what about whom, but again, my brain gave these a pass, concluding that the director was trying to edit a narrative of "real" events. Still, I couldn't help but wonder at some of the directorial choices. For example, Hannah misses a couple of weeks of school after suffering a near breakdown after getting dumped by her BF. She is told that if she doesn't get her ass back into class and fly the straight and narrow from here till the end of school, that she'll be expelled. So what does the director choose to do? Go for the art shot, showing her finally going back to class late, and sheepishly walking back into class. Later she is shown walking down an empty corridor. The only way that corridor could be empty is when class has already started - so Hannah is once again on the wrong side of the rules - meaning that the director risks her expulsion simply to shoot this shot inferring that she is a loner.

I was also curious about the tag ending that had a quote from Hannah saying that San Francisco was too expensive for her, so she moved to.... Wait for it.... New York - from what I've read the cost of living is equally high in both places. Further, I wondered how this poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks managed to get a scholarship to a prestigious NY art school after being underground in SF for a year - perhaps the film paid her way? Just saying.

In all, an interesting study that says more in subtle sub text than it does in its grand statements.
October 15, 2011
paul sandberg

Super Reviewer

"Remember high school? It's gotten worse."

A documentary on seniors at a high school in a small Indiana town and their various cliques.

Documentarian filmmaker Nanette Burstein's exploration into the 21st Century American teenager is often on the mark but feels very manipulative in examining 4 atypical US high school seniors a la John Hughes' The Breakfast Club: The Geek, The Jock, The Basket Case, The Princess and The Rebel as a template that has a few surprises in store for those who anticipate the expected usual trials and tribulations of youth: high expectations, stress to excel in curriculum and extracurricular activities to get into a decent college, social awkwardness, growing into one's own persona, and finally accepting the things the way they are, damn the expectations.
January 28, 2010
Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

I really enjoyed this. I tend to like things that follow "real" people, although I do have to question how set up this one was. Anyhow, it was very entertaining and I even sat and watched all the extra features, which I almost never bother to do on a rental.
July 20, 2009

Super Reviewer

According to this documentary, high school soap operas and teen movies have had it right from the start. This isn't a gritty expose of some secret way of life. It's just American high school as we've all come to expect it. Cool alternative girl, geek, jock and the princess are our main characters. They're just self-conscious teens worrying about which colleges they'll get into and if they'll have a date for prom. It's all very samey, but also entertaining. The film also has a cruel sense of humour directed towards lovable loser, Jake. He's represented in fantasy gaming sequences, where the animators have kindly decided to give him acne. He also has some choice chat-up lines concerning "failing at life". American Teen also tries a bit hard to mess with us with it's manipulative techniques. It's only after representing her as a bitch, that we hear about Megan's sister that committed suicide. Yet we hear about Hannah's mother suffering from manic depression, straight from the off. Nice and simple entertainment, but a strange and unexciting topic for a documentary.
May 5, 2009

Super Reviewer

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