Thursday, July 21, 2011

THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER: Youth captured beautifully by D. R. Mitchell

David Robert Mitchell's THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER has the look, feel, sound and reality of found-footage of present-day high schoolers cobbled together into a kind of home movie. This is a compliment, by the way -- an enormous compli-ment. Captured here is the confusion of youth in all its crazy, delightful, upsetting variations: huge needs that seem all-important today but by next year will have melted into oblivion; the gnawing sense that things are expected from these kids, of which they barely have a clue; and maybe, if they're lucky, the dawning idea that not everything they've heard (or thought or even felt) may be true or end up serving them well.

Compared to what passes for "youth" movies from Hollywood, even the best of them, Mr. Mitchell's film is a revelation. Even compared to the something like this year's earlier and overpraised doc/narrative mash-up Putty Hill, Myth/Sleepover shines, for its filmmaker, shown at left, while taking his time (97 minutes), slowly builds his characters until we feel strongly for every last one of them -- some, of course, more than others. Yet no one, in the end seems short-shrifted -- thanks to the wealth of smart situations, well-chosen small moments with dialog as real as you could want, and a well-cast acting ensemble that delivers the goods. What an accomplishment this movie is!

Myth/Sleepover sneaks up on you. From the first scene at a swimming pool toward the end of summer, the goings-on seem like life for kids of this age: typical and a little boring. So real is it all that we go along, however, and then the little oddities start cropping up to delight us. A shy boy, with his mom, spots a gorgeous blond in the supermarket, with her mom, and attempts a connect (above). The way we learn how strongly he feels about her is as original and priceless as anything you'll have seen. As is what happens just-after, over the market's loud-speaker.

Another cute blond and her best friend (above) bike around town looking for, among other things, a love connection. What they find by film's end, and how they handle it, is as spectacular as it is small and pure, if muddied a bit by life. The new girl in town, below, a sophomore "looker" who's hooked up with a senior guy, is invited to the girls' sleepover and gets into some mischief. A lesser movie might cast her as the villain of the piece.  Not this one.

We even have a same-sex, male crush (below), handled so subtly and quietly -- as of course it would be in this particular venue -- that it might go right by you. (Unless I am unduly extrapolating, the filmmaker bears some resemblance to the character who carries that crush. In fact, I had to check the IMDB to make sure he hadn't cast himself in the role.)

In the tale (below) that proves the loveliest, richest and most psychologically astute (about the maturity of boys and girls at this age, and how strongly the latter already understand their needs and situation), the college-age brother of one of the girls at the sleepover fixates on a pair of twins, shown below. (The boys have their own sleepover, though it degenerates into all sorts of other things. "Do you guys call it a 'sleepover,' one of the girl's asks? "Yes," the crush boy replies, "but not in front of other people.") What happens between the young man and the twins you might call heartbreaking, except these kids have their whole lives ahead of them, so -- what the hell -- mistakes are allowed.

Even at his young age, Mr Mitchell seems to understand what's allowed but how hard it is for kids to figure this out. Loyalties move around, lips find new venues, and connections are made, though nothing (as befits such a trying and changing time) is set in stone. The filmmaker also captures middle-America today (the film is set in the Detroit area), where some things have definitely changed -- inter-racial couples, for one -- while others seem to stay forever as they are/were.

There is even a terrific scene featuring karaoke (with dancing replacing singing) for which a bottle of vodka is the prize. I am deliberately not mentioning the names of any of the actors in the remarkable ensemble cast.  They're all terrific, and on the basis of their work here, I would hope we'll be seeing them soon again. Time will tell how high it rises, but for me, The Myth of The American Sleepover immediately joins the ranks of America's great movies about high school kids.

The film, from Sundance Selects, begins its theatrical run tomorrow, Friday, July 22, at the Angelika Film Center in New York. Unlike some Sundance Selects titles, this one will be available via VOD, starting Wednesday July 27.

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