Monday, August 8, 2011

David Robert Mitchell: Folklore of a Teenage Night (The Myth of the American Sleepover)

The Myth of the American Sleepover, Sundance Selects, 2011.

Suburban middle-America, streets paved with no end, teenagers running through the night without the faintest idea of what ills their parents and older siblings. Streetlights illuminating the fresh night air of youth. Director David Robert Mitchell delivers the most thrillingly authoritative American film debut of the year with The Myth of the American Sleepover, an affectionate ode to all-American adolescence. His approach is firm and heavily stylized, his green cast blossoms under his gaze, and the results are provocative.

The American teenager film can be traced all the way back to Wellman's Wild Boys of the Road (1933) on through the angst of Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and the nostalgia of Lucas' American Graffiti (1973) and the countless 80s teen-sex trifles. It is an important genre because it reminds us of who we are and how we felt at a given point in our lives, as well as evoking a specific time and place. Most recently, Richard Linklater crafted his masterpiece Dazed and Confused (1993) to which Mitchell's film pays respectful homage, and we were enlightened by Larry Clark's Kids (1995) and Bully (2001), Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World (2001), Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen (2003) and Jacob Aaron Estes' Mean Creek (2003). These picture's cut to the angst and exhilaration of actually being a teenager.

With Sleepover, Mitchell, an experienced film editor, not only flexes his muscles as a superlative technician, but displays his prowess as a stylist, locating the emotion in the visual order of his group portrait. The acting and dialogue are all flat and toneless, recalling the precision of Bresson minus the heaven. Through his manipulation of performance, Mitchell creates a pacing and pallor entirely his own. Through shapelessness he forms a shape. His feat is sublime.

The folklore of a teenage night is touched upon with a graceful force which marks Mitchell's as one of the most important independent films of the year. Following a dozen kids through their foibles and fears and desires in a Michigan suburb which could be now but feels and looks like the fuzzy past, the director salutes an American master, Richard Linklater, and the one night structure of his greatest achievement. This could be their last night on Earth, as far as these kids are concerned. Mitchell gives it that levity and shows he has the guts and vision to warrant our watching as a brilliant young director.

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