The characters in American Teen seem like stock figures from a high school comedy: the stuck-up prom queen, the ambitious jock, the pimply nerd, the misunderstood artist. It’s Mean Girls, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Revenge of the Nerds. But American Teen is a documentary, and the kids are real. That their stories conform to the tropes of teen movies demonstrates that these narratives are universal, rolling around somewhere in our collective unconscious.
Nanette Burstein, who co-directed The Kid Stays in the Picture, a biography of movie producer Robert Evans, made American Teen by living for ten months among a group of high-school seniors in
Burstein was influenced by Seventeen, an edgy PBS documentary centering on
Burstein selected a high school in
The top caste is represented by Megan, homecoming queen and student council climber whose personality appears to be modeled on Tracy Flick from Election: ruthless, arrogant, “a total bitch.” And, of course, very popular among her posse of friends.
This originally appeared in Cleveland Scene.