My review of “The Myth of the American Sleepover” at 2010 SXSW Film Festival
At first glance, The Myth of the American Sleepover appears to be just another end of summer coming of age dramedy. It might have been had it emerged from a major studio. However, with none of the Hollywood conventions attached, writer/director David Robert Mitchell's first feature film is fresh and poignant. In typical indie style, it took the tenacity and persistence of vision of the filmmakers to overcome numerous obstacles in bringing it to the big screen, and the audience is the better for it. This little gem was one of the most unexpected surprises I've seen in a long time.
Shot in the summer of 2008 outside Detroit, Michigan, the talented young ensemble cast of The Myth of the American Sleepover includes non-professional actors culled from the surrounding suburban high schools. In a refreshing twist, 14-21 year olds are actually portrayed by 14-21 year olds.
Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, and Brett Jacobsen are featured as Maggie, Rob, Claudia, and Scott, four kids navigating the troubled waters of adolescence through parallel storylines told in real time. The narrative isn't neat and polished, and it's not intended to be. The viewer is a fly on the wall, always observing, almost a voyeur. This film noir style creates a documentary sensibility that is as real and authentic as it gets.
The Myth of the American Sleepover was shot with the RED One. The latest in camera technology, it's said to mimic traditional film stock more closely than any previous digital method and creates a crystal clear image without the blurred, grainy look so prevalent among indies from first-time filmmakers. Natural light is used whenever possible, allowing the kids to shine without the distraction of busy visuals. The viewer will see them fumbling in the dark when that's exactly what they're supposed to be doing. Cinematographer James Laxton makes full use of the cutting edge tools at his disposal but never intrudes on the action. Together with the patient hand of editor Julio C. Perez IV, the filmmakers wisely chose a more measured, slower paced production than the MTV video style favored by big studios. The result is more thought-provoking and brings a level of introspection into the teen's awkward encounters that is lacking in most films of the genre.
The appropriately offbeat soundtrack also strays from convention. Hit singles aren't needed here to provide emotion and drama as in typical coming of age films. The sweet original score by Kyle Newmaster is never self-indulgent as it caresses the action instead of imposing itself on it.
This movie could have been titled The Myth of the American Teen Sex Comedy, for these kids are real -- honest and true to themselves and each other, not able to hide their innate innocence and vulnerability and not even trying to. These are literally the kids next door. They're confused and clueless, good looking but goofy, lost and wandering through the territory of self-discovery. Nobody knows what (or who) they want, and neither do we. And that's ultimately what makes The Myth of the American Sleepover so satisfying. Somehow we all survived those years intact, yet we long to return. We can do that in motion pictures. Nothing is more evocative of our youth than moving images that reflect our own sense of childhood wonder.
NOTE:The Myth of the American Sleepover went on to win the 2010 SXSW Film Festival Jury Award for Best Ensemble.
For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com
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