Films like The Myth of the American Sleepover don’t come along very often; strong in nostalgia and packed with the idiosyncrasies of the teenage years, it’s easy to see why SXSW 2010 chose to bestow the Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble on David Robert Mitchell’s charming feature. Managing to evoke Dazed & Confused, Freaks & Geeks, The Virgin Suicides and the films of John Hughes, yet avoiding appearing repetitious and redundant along the way, Mitchell has created a movie that examines the inner workings of a group of teenagers without the need of controversy as a hook.
An official selection of Cannes Critics Week and winner of the Special Jury Prize at SXSW, THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER is a youthful and tender coming-of-age drama from first-time writer/director David Robert Mitchell.
The film follows four young people on the last night of summer – their final night of freedom before the new school year starts. The teenagers cross paths as they explore the suburban wonderland they inhabit in search of love and adventure – chasing first kisses, elusive crushes, popularity and parties – and discover the quiet moments that will later resonate as the best in their youth. – Apple Trailers
With it’s study of teenagers, comparisons to Larry Clark’s Kids seem inevitable, however where Clark’s film grabs its viewers and screams aggressively in their faces, The Myth of the American Sleepover takes its audience politely to one side to whisper in their ears. Adopting a gentle approach, observing characters from afar, Mitchell’s film may feature underage drinking, recreational drug use and the occasional reference to sex, but these are more bi-products than the main ingredient. There is no scandal here; a slap in the face, a make-out maze and a little vodka for breakfast is as risqué as it gets. The world portrayed in The Myth of the American Sleepover is a world without parents, but with these adolescents there seems to be a level of decorum and a limit to their excess. Parties are had and kids stay out all night but these feel like tentative steps towards adulthood instead of the full blown abandonment of childhood.
Featuring some impressive performances from its cast of talented debutants, Mitchell’s decision to feature first time actors and relative unknowns seems to have been an inspired selection. There’s a tenderness and a rawness to the performances on display, as we’re taken on a non-stop tour of teenage emotion. The engagement you feel with characters is immense, when Rob (Marlon Morton) is disappointed after he finally tracks down the girl he’s been searching for all night, you really feel his crushing disappointment. And as Maggie (Claire Sloma) first glimpses her ‘pool guy’ crush at the party, you feel both the thrill of excitement and the grip of shyness radiate from within her. It would have been easy for the performances of Mitchell’s young ensemble to be overblown and exaggerated, but whether through good direction or natural talent, characters feel genuine and well-rounded, increasing the overall appeal of The Myth of the American Sleepover no end.
Adding to the fuzzy flow of nostalgia throughout Mitchell’s film is James Laxton’s hazy cinematography (he was also responsible for Medicine for Melancholy’s sumptuous San Francisco images). Shot on the ever popular Red One, Laxton’s restrained, observing style seems to always stay at just the right distance to make the viewer feel as if they are being allowed a privileged look into the dynamic of this much maligned group. At times, it’s almost as if you’re watching a wildlife documentary, the camera not wanting to interfere with its subjects’ habitat or disturb the delicate mating ritual unfolding in front of its gaze. Water-drenched sequences work particularly well and feel especially vivid; the inviting breeze coming off the swimming hole practically plays across your skin and when the summer rain falls the wet grass seems just an inhale away. Laxton’s photography is complimented by the gentle, well-paced editing of Julio Perez IV, whilst a joyous soundtrack of quirky tracks accompanies the proceedings.
Some may complain that The Myth of the American Sleepover lacks the drama of Kids or the comedy of Dazed & Confused, but Mitchell’s film takes the slightest pinch of these forerunners and mixes them with a large dose of sentimentality to create a genuinely enigmatic film. Where the films of Clark and Linklater seemed to be journeying to a specific goal throughout, Mitchell’s film takes a more meandering approach, casually strolling towards its open ended conclusion. Those who will love The Myth of the American Sleepover are those who can sit back, relax and let the waves of nostalgia roll over them. Mitchell’s film is the feel good hit of the summer, enjoy it now as we don’t know when another one will come along.