Reviewer's grade: A
In "American Teen," documentarian Nanette Burstein trains her camera on high school archetypes " the princess, the rebel, the geek, the jock and the heartthrob " and digs into the reality behind the stereotype. It sounds like a simple exercise, but Burstein is an exceptional storyteller. Culling through more than 1,000 hours of footage shot over 10 months, she fashions a riveting narrative that remind us how high school was no place for the faint of heart.
And it helps that the teens of "American Teen" possess plenty of heart, particularly Hannah Bailey, a quick-witted 17 year old who dreams of becoming a filmmaker and getting the hell out of her small Indiana town. Some hand-wringing movie critics have accused Burstein's doc of being largely staged because the kids in it seem so unguarded, but those detractors fail to consider that documentary cameras always impact their subjects. Besides, anyone who remembers high school knows that it's nothing but drama. PG-13