American Teen

Critics Consensus

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



Total Count: 152


Audience Score

User Ratings: 102,241
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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 stereotypes of high school to render complex young people trying to find their way into adulthood. With extraordinary intimacy and a great deal of humor, "American Teen" captures the pressures of growing up--pressures that come from one's peers, one's parents, and not least, oneself.

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Critic Reviews for American Teen

All Critics (152) | Top Critics (45) | Fresh (106) | Rotten (46)

  • This is not compelling film making; it just makes you hope that these kids will lighten up and learn to enjoy life.

    Apr 6, 2015 | Rating: 1.5/4 | Full Review…
  • Funny and fresh, it won't break boundaries but it will make anyone thankful for growing up.

    Mar 7, 2009 | Rating: 4/5
  • 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.

    Mar 6, 2009 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

    Dave Calhoun

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • The documentary curriculum is sex, gossip and self-pity. Not exactly original, but disturbingly true.

    Mar 6, 2009 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • This film was for me marred by the persistent suspicion that the director wasn't being entirely straight with us.

    Mar 6, 2009 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…
  • Burstein orchestrates their passage through school with some sympathy and no real revelations - except for the fact that she guesses, probably correctly, that most teenagers are nothing like as dangerous and bolshie as a lot of adults believe.

    Mar 6, 2009 | Rating: 3/5

Audience Reviews for American Teen

  • Oct 15, 2011
    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.
    paul s Super Reviewer
  • Jun 12, 2010
    The most staged documentary I?ve seen outside of film school.  Seemed more like something that would be aired on MTV rather than a movie theater.  Pretty, pretty, pretty bad.
    Christopher B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 18, 2009
    A good documentary about teenagers.Megans A........
    Brody M Super Reviewer
  • Oct 06, 2009
    It is not the underage drinking or the borderline illegal activity that disturbs me so much in the partly satisfying documentary "American Teen."(I could tell you stories about high school class trips to Quebec that would curdle your blood...) Rather, it is the high school students' self-inflicted lack of privacy. The one difference between now and 20 years ago is the technology, breaking down all barriers in the form of mobile phones, text messaging and other toys. It used to be just unreliable gossip but now there is instant proof to be forwarded around at will. Take the very sad example of the high school student in the documentary who sends a picture of herself topless to a guy she likes who then forwards it to somebody he knows and before you know it, it is all over school, the subject of massive ridicule.(Pepperoni nipples?) That has to be worse than having a father who is an Elvis impersonator, right? None of that compares to the privacy given up by the four students profiled in the senior class at Warsaw Community High School in Indiana in an attempt by the filmmakers to film a representative cross section of the student body. They are captured in their most emotionally vulnerable moments as they try to find their places in the world.(Whatever happened to locked diaries?) The central question is whether that will be in the same small town where they grew up or elsewhere. And even though the intent is to show high school through the eyes of the students, I would have liked a little more overview from the high school staff, which would give a better idea as to whether this high school is more vocational in nature or college prep. At a guess, I would have to say the former.
    Walter M Super Reviewer

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