Late Thursday night, one particular Facebook status update caught my attention. It implored me to "go see AMERICAN TEEN this weekend. It sums up the high school experience. and i have a special place in my heart for them." I popped over to the movie's site, watched the trailer, and was hooked. I wanted to see this thing with a quickness. The movie's site said it'd open "in select cities" on Friday. Only after subsequent navigation to the movie's Facebook page did I discover that "select cities" really meant "three theaters in Los Angeles and two in New York." Fortunately for both me and the person who posted that update (I'll call her "ThePublicist" - and she did have a vested interest in the movie), New York is only two hours' drive from New London. Not only that, I was already thinking about heading to the city for another reason - seeing this movie made the trip a done deal.
Despite paying twelve American dollars to be admitted to the Sunshine on East Houston Street, I found American Teen both funny and moving. I missed the first few minutes, but the remainder that I did see was more than worth what I paid. It captured so much of what it was to be in high school. Barely a minute went by without me reflecting on some aspect of my own teenage years - or laughing hysterically. Each of the five characters' experiences brought something back for me. While Colin, Mitch, and Megan only reminded me of particular experiences, Jake and Hannah really resonated. I've got to give it to Jake for having the stugots to keep after a girlfriend. He was certainly a braver man than I was a decade ago. His love of the video games (because he always gets the girl at the end) was familiar to me, as was the desire to retreat to a world where I could ensure an ultimately favorable outcome. Jake had the most memorable line of the entire film, when he confessed his fear that the future would be the same as - or worse than - the present. It was exactly that fear that completely dominated my senior year. I loved Hannah's vulnerability, and the way the movie portrayed the hurt she felt after losing her love. When I saw her in the party, all the popular kids socializing around her, and completely ignoring her - I'd been there. She also won major points from me for bouncing back (twice), staying true to herself, and standing up to her parents. I'll lay money that if she'd been in my shoes five and a half years ago, she wouldn't have joined the Navy or any other service. There were so many other things about this movie that were just done right. Megan's college acceptance scene was perfect - I was apprehensive as she was handed the (false) thin letter, and then relieved as she opened the fat envelope. Colin's need to secure a basketball scholarship to finance his college education reminded me of just how fortunate certain circumstances fell for me - circumstances that put the Ivy League within my reach.
There were some things that I found unfamiliar; despite being exposed to them many a time over the years, I never got to experience them in person. Two in particular came to mind as I watched - the mentality toward athletics and the post-graduation plans of the class as a whole. In both cases, myself, ThePublicist, and the three hundred fifty-six others who graduated from Northport High nine years ago most probably had the atypical experience. Of course, by setting the movie at a school in Indiana, basketball would have to play a part. You really see how the entire Warsaw community tends to turn on the fortunes of the boys' basketball team. The sports angle isn't explored in nearly as much depth as was seen in Varsity Blues or Friday Night Lights, but it still reminded me that I came from a place where there wasn't a huge premium on teams' performance. And instances of people not being able to afford to go to college were rare in Northport a decade ago - given the continued accrual of affluence there, I'm sure they're nearly nonexistent today. Though I was lucky to have things go right to get me the funds to attend Cornell (funds that I completely repaid to my parents, mind you), there was really never a question of me going to college or not. I might have ended up going to a public school, but I would have been going nonetheless. I can't honestly relate to a situation where my failure to perform on the court (or in my case, the lanes, because bowling was the only sport I did in high school) would prevent me from going to college altogether.
At many points during American Teen, I wondered to myself, "what is (s)he thinking?" Usually, too much drama was being introduced into the situation, or a character was making something bigger than it needed to be. But I continually reminded myself that I had the benefit of nine-plus years of post-high school experience. If they - or any high-schooler - suck at that point in time, that's totally fine. Watching this brought back to me, in stark detail, how much I totally sucked in the late nineties. What matters is that they avoid the thinking that befalls so many high-school athletes - the belief that their life will peak at seventeen or eighteen. The one thing I took away from this movie more than any other was the desire to reassure the characters that their trials and tribulations were normal, and that their best days were unquestionably ahead of them. American Teen is well worth both the price of admission and an hour and forty minutes of your time - and it should get a wider release so more people can experience it.