SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 29, 2010
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Writer: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Brett Jacobsen
The end of summer is quickly approaching and teenagers around town are reluctantly preparing to begin a new year of school. The soon-to-be high school freshmen are participating in random sleepovers around town, while the upper classmen are hosting wild parties of their own. I suspect this scenario is a fantasy (perhaps a myth?) for most teens – an entire town in which everyone between the age of 14 and 19 has a sleepover or party to attend…and not an adult in sight. (It is as if the parents have vanished and left their teenage kids to their own devices.)
Maggie (Claire Sloma) is arguably the main character of this mammoth ensemble cast – I say that primarily because the film opens and closes with her character’s story and I would venture a wager that she has the most screen-time. She and Beth (Annette DeNoyer) are two friends who (like so many other characters in this film) are facing the seemingly insurmountable chasm between junior high and high school; but at least they have each other as they test the waters of the high school world of boys and booze. In many ways, Maggie appears to be the bravest and most mature of the incoming freshman. She splashes into the world of high school with eyes wide open – adventurous and somewhat rebellious all the while underscoring her actions with a tinge of trepidation, awkwardness and youthfulness. First-time writer-director David Robert Mitchell makes it clear early on – especially with Maggie and Beth – that he is perfectly content letting the audience sit back and watch his characters ride bicycles or dance, actions that are perfectly real yet leave the plot somewhat stagnated. (Don’t get me wrong, I think that patience is a great skill for a director to have and this is one of the many factors that makes The Myth of the American Sleepover very special.)
At one point, a high school junior – who is wise beyond his years (perhaps channeling the opinions of the Mitchell himself) – explains the “loss of innocence” to Maggie. Pleasures begin to fade; you wind up growing up too fast. Things like playing hide-and-seek were so much fun as a kid, but once you are in high school that all goes away. The simple things in life are no longer fun, everything becomes so serious. Each teenager trades in his/her innocence at the gates of high school in exchange for adventure; but the adventure is mostly just a myth.
On a completely different tangent in this spider-web of segregated yet proximate tales, Rob (Marlon Morton) – also an incoming freshman – partakes in an all-night search for a girl he checked out at the supermarket earlier in the day. The boyish Rob – who claims to have lost his virginity, but in reality has not – did not have the nerve to speak to the girl then, but he seems to think that he can conjure up the nerve if he can locate her this evening. Here, Mitchell brilliantly captures the romantic daydreams we sometimes have of complete strangers who have passed in and out of our lives without even a hello. Rob is enchanted and spellbound by a girl he has never even spoken to, yet his feelings for her seem so honest and true.
Claudia (Amanda Bauer) is new in town, but she has already scored an older boyfriend (The Myth of the American Sleepover features quite a few relationships in which the girl is a few years younger than the boy) who she spends a majority of her time with. At the end of track practice Claudia is invited to a sleepover. That night Claudia is shot like a cannonball into the cool-clique cattiness of the popular girls, and let’s just say that she doesn’t come out unscratched.
And then there is Scott – the older kid – who is home from college, dealing with his first major heartbreak. He remembers a pair of twins – Ady (Nikita Ramsey) and Anna (Jade Ramsey) – whom he liked and who may have liked him. He tracks them down at a college orientation sleepover and confesses his feelings for them. Scott’s confession (which the twins do not make easy for him) doesn’t lack honesty but it could very feasibly be just a rebound – the twins pick up on that and they opt to humor Scott with an ultimatum. At least one of them is interested but they smartly turn Scott away for him to collect his thoughts. Scott’s Playboy fantasy will just have to wait…
Maggie, Rob, Claudia and Scott may represent the four major tangents of The Myth of the American Sleepover – but the narrative bounces freely between them and countless other characters in a very natural manner that allows each teen enough screen time and breathing room to be fleshed out and seem real. To compare Mitchell to Robert Altman might be a bit of a stretch, but I think it’s not completely unreasonable. Mitchell definitely reveals a true knack for juggling a multitude of characters while making them all seem important, worthwhile and – most importantly – human.
Personally, I don’t think it would be a spoiler to discuss the most noteworthy trait of The Myth of the American Sleepover: the characters retain their innocence. There are no drug overdoses or drunken rampages; no rapes or violence of any kind; no one dies. It seems as though The Myth of the American Sleepover might just be the antithesis – or antidote – to Hollywood teen movies. Sure there are some slight similarities to John Hughes’ oeuvre sprinkled throughout, but Mitchell’s film bares much more resemblance to François Truffaut, Louis Malle and Robert Bresson.
I wouldn’t be surprised if The Myth of the American Sleepover is a wee bit twee and overtly sweet for some viewers – not to mention slow and meandering – but I see it as an accurate and honest (and timeless – thanks to the lack of cell phones) coming-of-age film. The Myth of the American Sleepover was the much deserved winner of the SXSW 2010 Special Jury Prize for Best Ensemble Cast.