Monday, July 26, 2010

MIFF 2010 Review: The Myth of the American Sleepover

The Myth of the American Sleepover
Dir. David Robert Mitchell
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: TBC
Running Time: 97mins

For a movie that was apparently "several years in the making", David Robert Mitchell's debut feature The Myth of the American Sleepover seems curiously unacquainted with its central characters. The likes of Maggie (Claire Sloma, who's given the most to do), Rob (impressive Marlon Morton), Claudia (Amanda Bauer) and Scott (Brett Jacobsen) all feel like recognisable and realistic teens, but lack a certain deeper understanding that Mitchell should have provided for his non-professional actors. The actors, uniformly good, play their roles, but they don't go anywhere that transcends the quaint material. This makes Sleepover an affable film to watch, but one lacking any substantial drama to make it truly memorable.

Set over one night towards the end of the American summer, several teenagers' experiences mimic one another as they trawl the neighbourhood, going from one sleepover to the next. I don't recall any of my sleepovers being this big and elaborate - unfortunately, no Ouija boards for me - so perhaps it is an American thing, but the character-based situations that arise are familiar and audiences should respond accordingly. Some of the characters will learn something about themselves and others over this night that, I imagine, but nothing incredibly important. Perhaps there is just too much restraint in showing this and instead makes the events transpiring feel a little bit too inconsequential.

All the archetypes are there - the horny boys, the girl desperate to be popular and her mousy friend, the gay boy who hasn't told anybody, the slutty one, the bitchy one and so on. Some are instantly more interesting than others and viewers will surely pin point the one they identify with moth. Familiar teenage occurrences that adults look back on with embarrassment and laughs like walking around the supermarket in circles just to catch a fleeting glimpse of that cute someone you passed earlier, swiping a can of beer from a stranger's open esky or doing anything, leaving behind all dignity, to "accidentally" cross paths with a crush are well played by the cast and feel organic to the story and brought a smile to my face. Only one plot strand, involving a college dropout who's attracted to a set of twins, is truly superfluous and should have been axed. This thread verges far to close to a juvenile Hollywood mentality.

Tracking shots featuring youthful exuberance remind of Van Sant and characters present an exterior that masks their inner feelings like one would expect from an independent study of teenagers. Cinematographer Juli Perez IV has made this suburbia recognisable and real and, thankfully, characters don't succumb to silliness and convene by accident like a Paul Haggis movie. I just wish these characters were given something truly affecting to work with. The Myth of the American Sleepover is a slice of life, sure, but when it's all over and done it doesn't feel like much has been gained or achieved by any of the characters or the audience. B-

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