(David Robert Mitchell, 2010)
I don't recognise much of my own teens in the majority of teen movies. I doubt many people do. The American teen genre, filled with glamorous, massive house parties and boldly archetypal characters (jock, nerd, prom queen etc) in an affluently suburban landscape, is far removed from my own experience, though it did twist my own expectations as a teen.
David Robert Mitchell's lovely indie is a far more recognisable proposition. Following a large cast of teens in a middle class Detroit suburb as they circle each other over the course of the last night of summer before they return to High School or leave for College, it is filled with authentic details that can only have come from memory.
There are four storylines running alongside one another and occasionally intersecting. Two of them focus on moony young men, one a romantic teen searching Gatsby-style for the beautiful blonde he saw in a supermarket, the other in town for summer and contemplating not returning to College for his final year after a traumatic breakup, also looking for a former crush.
Then there are the girls; a young cheerleader hoping for one last night of romance and excitement and a recent arrival in town who tries to steal another girls boyfriend after reading something about her own boyfriends past in the girls diary.
They are surrounded by a rich cast of friends, classmates and siblings, and the film is filled with secret crushes, casual telling conversations and loaded glances. Most of the cast are not professionals, and disregarding a couple of instances of wooden stiltedness, they give the film an appealingly unguarded energy and authenticity most teen movies never approach.
It is set at the precise moment in the teens when the last vestiges of childhood begin to dissolve and nostalgia for former innocence creeps into ones view of oneself. Mitchell's gaze is warm, humanist, and these characters are generally nice, articulate and thoughtful people.
Their conversations are full of empathy and insight, and they all seem in search of romance. The film is soulful rather than loquacious, attuned to the moment yet appreciative of the power of memory, and Mitchell's attention to texture and detail gives it all a sensual charge.
Here are teenage boys trying to project an image of jaded experience while longing for romance and the right moment with a pretty girl, and Mitchell's portrait of this one warm night, in all it's vital detail and many textures, gives it a very recognisable sense of nostalgia and longing which is quite moving.
Another factor in its universality is a certain timeless quality it possesses; the clothes and hairstyles suggest the present day, but there are no cultural references to date it, and no cellphones used at all, suggesting the 80s or 90s.
It may recall similar masterpieces of small-town teenage life and love Dazed & Confused and American Grafitti, but this film has it's own unique feel, quietly romantic and poetic, naturalistic and loose. It is beautifully shot and cut, and nicely uses some indie music by Beirut and The Magnetic Fields. But it is chiefly a fine, compulsive piece of storytelling with a nagging emotional charge from an interesting young American writer-director.