I’m not the right person to review The Myth of the American Sleepover.
The thing is, I had already fallen in love with this movie the minute I heard the comparisons to Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, Greg Mottola’s Adventureland, and George Lucas’ American Graffiti. Any film that can be spoken of in the same breath as these three beauties already has my appreciation and admiration. But regardless of any loss of objectivity from my side due to personal soft-spots, please don’t take it lightly when I say that writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s first effort is an excellent coming-of-age tale, as tender as it is sublime.
The Myth of the American Sleepover takes place on the last weekend of summer before school reopens. The film follows four teenagers as they roam around the suburban wonderland they inhabit in search of friends, fun, adventure and love. These teenagers cross paths while exploring the town – chasing popularity, crushes and that elusive first kiss. Over the course of the night, we get to see them in incidents of ephemeral brashness and in moments of quiet discovery – all the while being witness to the formation of those memories that will resonate the most with them when they grow older.
If you asked me what my favorite thing about the film was, it would take me less than two seconds to come up with this answer – “Its sense of time and place.” While it’s true that American Sleepover was shot in the suburbs of Detroit, this doesn’t come across to anyone who didn’t know of the fact beforehand. Locations have an anonymous, wistful feel to them which only adds to their charm. In the same way, no one could tell you when the events in the film are taking place. I don’t remember anyone using cellphones, no one mentions Facebook even once and when a boy wants to show someone a picture of the girl he slept with, he doesn’t do so with a camera or a smartphone but with a View-Master-ish keychain, which may be quaint but certainly doesn’t feel anachronistic. That the film takes place in no particular place and no particular era makes it about every possible place and every possible era. There’s a timelessness to the film’s dreamlike universe that was a huge reason why I loved it so much. The role of James Laxton’s cinematography in achieving this look and arousing this response must be noted. It may be an indie film, but it sure doesn’t skimp on its production values.
American Sleepover is David Robert Mitchell’s baby, and it’s his decisions that pay off so well in the final product. Firstly, he gets teenagers. So many times in films that are supposedly about teenagers, the characters’ behavior, mannerisms and dialogues don’t even feel remotely like they belong to actual teenagers. But every single person in this ensemble feels real. Any screenplay with multiple protagonists and a multilinear narrative must straddle the delicate line between moving enough to do justice to all characters but also not moving so fast that one particular thread ends up getting the short end of the straw. Mitchell expertly tackles this challenge and shuffles between the various plotlines with grace and finesse. While some may find the film’s meandering pace a turn off, it’s this laidback coat to the proceedings that entranced me for the film’s 93min runtime. I also loved the climax, which is not about reaching a crescendo as much as it is about having a catharsis – just the way I like it.
Mitchell’s excellent writing wouldn’t have gone far had he not managed to extract such good performances from his actors – a feat all the more impressive when you consider that the cast is mostly made up of unknown newcomers. Claire Sloma plays Maggie, a lively pixie who would rather chase boys at a party that attend an all-girls sleepover, and is the standout. She’s the Molly Ringwald stand-in, further pushing this movie into John Hughes territory. She also gets one scene set in a poolside party that, in an ideal world, would make her a star. Amanda Bauer is commendable as Claudia, the new girl in town who has an enviable boyfriend. The only disappointing act for me was Marlon Morton’s turn as Rob. His arc was my least favorite one in the narrative as it is, but his performance – a bit too deadpan for comfort – didn’t help his cause.
The coming-of-age dramedy is my favorite subgenre in all of cinema, but I’d like to believe that this film is good enough to appeal to people even without preferences akin to mine. I can’t recommend The Myth of the American Sleepover enough; it’s my favorite film of the year so far.
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Photo Credit: IFC Films