' ' Cinema Romantico: The Myth of the American Sleepover

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Myth of the American Sleepover

Whereas Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused" was about the first night after the last day of school and, thus, contained a raucous vibe, David Robert Mitchell's "The Myth of the American Sleepover" (just released to DVD) is about the last night before the first day of school and, thus, contains a languid vibe. It's been many moons since I've felt that harsh pit in my stomach when opening day of a new school year approaches, yet it's a sensation I can vividly recall. When a character says "I just want to enjoy tonight because it's going to be the last night of my life", he's not being melodramatic. That's how the last night before the first day of school feels. And that's what "The Myth of the American Sleepover" evokes for most of its 90 minute run time.

Set in an unnamed small Michigan town, the film essentially follows four separate story lines that from time to time overlap and intermingle. Character names are revealed, certainly, but are difficult to remember, not because the characters are unmemorable but because despite having differences they all come across not necessarily universal but synonymous in their thoughts and desires. Kids want to hold hands and kids want to make out and kids want to have sex and even if kids do want to have something approaching intelligent conversation, well, when you see a scorching blonde teen ingenue roaming the aisles of the local grocery store, talking seems pretty meaningless to a high school sophomore. No?

This is what happens to one of the movie's males, spotting a scorching blonde teen ingenue roaming the aisles of the local grocery store and then spending the remainder of the film trying to track her down amidst the various girl-only sleepovers taking place across town. One of these sleepovers involves a new girl who has begun dating a guy whose history aligns with the girl who is hosting the sleepover and whose boyfriend might just become the target of the new girl, not from love but from adolescent vengeance. An about-to-be female freshman with a lovely lip ring and her inseparable pal who ride their bikes everywhere find themselves at a skinny dipping party and faced with the prospects of a couple boys who may or may not be nice. And the obligatory non high-schooler, back home from college and dead-set on dropping out after a failed relationship, strikes out on a quest to find the two twin girls with whom he used to pal around and whom he used to sort of like......not that he ever did anything about it.

So let's stop right there. That's crucial. A guy on a quest to find TWO TWIN GIRLS. That's the sort of line you read in the synopsis leading you to immediately assume you've got the film all figured out......but you don't. While Mitchell's film is not tougher, per se, it's gentler. It's a decidedly quiet movie that possesses almost no rah-rah moments (one song & dance routine that initially seemed like a dream sequence - was it? - is terribly out of place, however) and while it is filled with general and necessary teenage stupidity it is not presented in that irritating manner so typical to the genre. They're not stupid to satisfy plot points, they're stupid because, you know, they're stupid.

Almost none of the cast members had previous acting experience and, rest assured, it shows. The acting here ranges from really stilted to just slightly stilted, but it's okay. (I would venture that Amanda Bauer gives the "best" performance.) If want to give yourself over to it (and you should), the inexpressiveness of the acting lends itself to the idea of how difficult it is to express yourself at that age and how knowing what you want doesn't mean you know what you want.

A parade coda also comes across like a mis-step - like miniature cookies for dessert at the request of the studio - but set that aside and notice how our many characters don't end up exactly the way they intended. Teenage films so often follow those pre-packaged beats note for note. "The Myth of the American Sleepover" doesn't. So tell me which one's more authentic.

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