It’s one hot night near the end of summer somewhere in leafy suburban America, and a bunch of high school kids — from baby-faced freshmen to confident seniors — ride bikes out to their favorite swimming holes, cruise around in cars blaring tunes, wander from house to house thinking that the next party will be better and, with the help of alcohol, try to get sloppy enough to make out with someone. They’re all restless, not realizing that years from now, they’re going to look back at this aimless freedom as “the best days of their lives.”
This bittersweet combination of nostalgia and loss has fueled any number of classic coming-of-age flicks, from “American Graffiti” to “Dazed & Confused,” and director David Robert Mitchell aims for similar territory with his 2010 debut, “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” which is only now getting released at the Tollywood theater in Shimokitazawa, Aug. 27-Sept. 9, presumably thanks to the success of his sophomore film, “It Follows.”
“Sleepover” benefits from having been made while Mitchell’s memories were still fresh; he wrote the movie right after finishing grad school and shot it on a lean $30,000 budget with a cast of unknowns. Like Richard Linklater did in “Dazed & Confused,” Mitchell prioritizes capturing what it really felt like to be a teen — that sense of wanting something more but not knowing exactly what — and rejects the usual stereotypes of high school movies and TV dramas.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||96 mins|
Mitchell is great at capturing the awkwardness of the teen years: One perfect scene has a boy and a girl pushing carts down a supermarket aisle; he’s clearly checking her out, and she knows it, but he waits till the last second as they pass to make eye contact and flash a flirty smile. You realize they’re both trying to act cool, like it isn’t their moms who are sifting through the shelves a little farther down the aisle.
“The Myth of the American Sleepover” features plenty of what it promises: sleepovers, those parent-free rituals of teenage bonding. An Altman-size cast of kids — who really do look young — head off to slumber parties with pajamas and sleeping bags in tow; the girls gossip and break out some coke and a ouija board, while the boys watch a slasher movie and listlessly leaf through dirty magazines. More than one kid suggests that sleepovers are lame. But, as Scott (Brett Jacobsen), a college senior who feels like his life ended in high school, puts it, a sleepover is “the kind of thing you miss when you’re too old to do it anymore.”
Scott is hardly a wise elder: Feeling blue from a bad breakup with his girlfriend since high school, he drives off in search of a pair of cute twins whom he hasn’t spoken to since his senior prom. He seems convinced that only another teenage daydream will make things right.
Similarly, Rob (Marlon Morton), a blank-faced 14-year-old in cargo shorts, spends the entire night trying to track down his supermarket sweetheart, plodding morosely through backyards and darkened streets. The director sees both Scott and Rob as romantics, but more than a few viewers will find their fixations a bit creepy and borderline stalker. Claire Sloma’s trouble-seeking freshman Maggie and Amanda Bauer’s “new girl in town” Claudia wind up in more recognizable mishaps, getting too drunk and fighting with friends over boys.
“Sleepover” is evocative but a little underwhelming. With “Dazed & Confused”, “American Graffiti” or even “16 Candles,” the music, fashion and behavior is iconic, immediately placing you in a specific point in time. With “Sleepover”, it’s all fuzzy: a girl’s facial piercing and the generic-yet-obscure “alt-rock” on the car stereos hint that it’s sometime past the mid-’90s, but the total lack of cellphone, pager or online interaction feels strange. This lack of a unifying generational identity may well be the defining aspect of millennials, but it sure doesn’t make for much of a movie.