Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 9, 2012)
Did the “teens during one big night” genre exist before 1973’s American Graffiti? Probably, but that film remains the template and got reflected in later flicks like Dazed and Confused and Take Me Home Tonight.
The concept gets a low-key “indie” makeover with 2011’s The Myth of the American Sleepover. Set in suburban Detroit right before the first day of school, the film mostly focuses on four characters and their romantic interests. “Rebel girl” Maggie (Claire Sloma) has a few crushes, while Rob (Marlon Morton) pines for a mysterious blonde he sees in a grocery store.
Scott (Brett Holland) takes a break from college and returns home after his girlfriend dumps him, and Claudia (Amanda Bauer) – a sophomore who recently moved to town – dates a hot senior boy but experiences tension when she competes with local slut Janelle (Shalya Curran). The various characters interact and converge across a mix of parties and sleepovers.
On the positive side, Myth boasts a feeling of realism usually absent from movies such as this. In the real world, the average teen “party night” doesn’t come with massive life-changing revelations and the like; it’s just a bunch of kids who wander aimlessly in search of a good time that may or may not arrive. Myth captures this meandering feeling well, and I appreciate that.
On the other hand, while this may offer a realistic approach, it doesn’t make for an especially fascinating tale. Part of the problem stems from the lack of definition the participants receive. Rob stands out the most, but that’s simply because he’s one of the few characters who actually has an arc; his pursuit of the cute blonde completely rips off the Richard Dreyfuss subplot from American Graffiti, but at least it gives him something to do.
The same goes for Scott, as his quest for love provides some narrative thrust. He’s the odd man out here for a variety of reasons, mostly due to his age – he’s supposed to be 21 or so – and the fact that his thread takes him out of town. Scott has a crush on one of the “Abbey twins” (Nikita and Jade Ramsey) – though it’s not clear if Scott knows which one – and this takes him on the road to visit them at their college freshman orientation sleepover.
While the change of scenery is nice, Scott’s story sticks out an awful lot. All of the other characters tend to be roughly 14 or 15, so the focus on a dude old enough to drink legally seems a bit out of left field.
Though it fits with the others in that Scott’s thread doesn’t really go much of anywhere. Again, I suspect that was essentially the point of the film: rather than create a big “coming of age” story, it offers a small slice of life. Though the characters do make some changes by the flick’s end – mostly due to couplings that materialize – they’re not notably different than they were at the start, and that makes sense. After all, how often do any of us go through major life changes in the span of 24 hours?
Then again, there’s a good reason they don’t make movies about our normal lives. Colin’s Weekend Part II: He Scratches His Butt Again!) As much as I appreciate the realism portrayed here, I find myself wishing that writer/director David Robert Mitchell would spice the flick up with… something. A car chase! A fight! A 12-eyed monster! Whatever – just something to offer a little more entertainment than we find here.
Though I suspect I’d feel less eager for theatrics if the characters boasted more life and personality. Honestly, they tend to blend into one. Maggie stands out simply due to her short hair/piercings/tattoos; she’s also a smidgen more rebellious than the other girls, though not by much.
In terms of behavior, though, Maggie’s usually as dishwater dull as her peers. The girls tend to flirt a lot, drink a bit of booze and occasionally kiss boys. The guys scope out the girls, also drink and try to put the moves on the females – albeit in painfully small and awkward ways.
Oh, awkwardness abounds here – and again, that makes sense in the clumsy world of mid-teens. (Or early-20-somethings, in Scott’s case.) I just wish a little more personality emerged. Most of the cast lacks experience; a few actors have some films/TV on their résumés, but for quite a few, Myth provides their debut. I think the youngsters acquit themselves reasonably well – I couldn’t find a genuinely bad performance in the lot – but none of them do much to create involving, engaging characters.
Which I once more must recognize was probably part of the movie’s mission: to create a slice of teen life with which the viewer can identify. A film that uses bigger, broader personalities tends to lose the “you are there” feel.
And also once more, I have to say that I respect that – and this leaves me torn about Myth. For every element that I appreciate, I find one that leaves me cold. That adds up to an occasionally intriguing but often frustrating and slow cinematic experience.