Thursday, July 17, 2008

This Was Your Life

The other night my roommate and I attended a screening of the soon to be released film American Teen. It’s your typical high school film. There’s comedy and drama. People are mean. There’s a nerd who wants to find a girlfriend. There are relationships that start and end. There’s a subplot about the basketball team. More or less everything you’d expect.

One major difference though: it’s all real. Nanette Burstein, director of the documentary The Kid Stays In The Picture, followed a group of high schoolers in Warsaw, Indiana for their senior year. While the film isn’t anything groundbreaking, it is an interesting look back into the whole high school experience, a nostalgic jaunt down memory lane.[1]

It’s interesting how closely some of the storylines resemble Hollywood films. There’s a group of popular girls who take down one of their own, a la Mean Girls, though what they do is infinitely crueler. There’s a jock who dates the free-flowing artistic girl only to break her heart. Though Freddie Prinze Jr. isn’t a jock[2], it reminded me of She’s All That, minus the happy ending.

After the screening, four of the featured teens (now two years older[3]) answered questions about their experience with the film, including what it was like to look back on documented evidence of their senior year. That is, eight months of their lives.

This got me thinking about what a strange experience this would be. It’s not reality TV, where years down the line you could see how you acted in a certain competition. It’s not even a documentary about a specific event, like Spellbound or The King of Kong. It’s merely following their normal everyday lives, much like the show “This American Life” focuses on a particular aspect of someone’s daily life that, while normal to them, might seem strange to outsiders.[4]

Most of us look back on our teenage years and laugh at certain aspects and feel bad about others. But they can literally watch themselves. It’s as if they had a crazy documentarian for a Dad.[5]

All of the people involved with American Teen have changed significantly, which is to be expected, but they each found it fascinating to look back on themselves. While I wouldn’t relish having a camera crew follow me around, I can’t deny how much I’d love to see movies scrapped together from previous years of my life.

What about you? Do you think you’d learn anything from it? Would you enjoy it? Or do you want to leave the past in the past?

[1] I actually identified most with a friend character that was barely featured. I didn’t really learn enough about him to know if we were alike, but I have a feeling.

[2] Summer Catch doesn’t count.

[3] So probably not teens anymore, for the most part.

[4] But even this is more specific than American Teen. No one would call anything in the lives of those teens out of the ordinary.

[5] I bet there is years’ worth of footage of Werner Herzog’s kids.

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