High school really was hellish, wasn’t it? As much as we like to deny it and look back with rose-tinted glasses on those so-called halcyon days, it’s impossible to fully eradicate the lingering trauma it wrought. Thank goodness then we have plenty of movies to pour salt on the wound and remind us just how intensely awkward and uncomfortable those pimple-strewn years really were. Already this year we’ve seen Richard Ayoade’s sublime Submarine – all about a sociopathic know-it-all teen who is taken down a notch or ten on the road to adulthood – and Thomas McCarthy’s Win Win – which features a number of young outsiders trying to find their place, as well as plenty of middle-agers reflecting on days long gone. Throw into the pile David Robert Mitchell’s impressive feature debut The Myth of the American Sleepover, a suitably sad little drama about adolescents on the cusp of maturity who try to pack as many bad decisions in one night before having to face reality the next day.
Much like George Lucas’ American Graffiti before it, The Myth of the American Sleepover takes place over one evening; specifically, the last night of summer break. School begins the next morning, so the central dozen or so characters decide to say goodbye to the holidays with a series of simultaneous sleepovers (of varying innocence). All the kids have an agenda. Maggie (Claire Sloma) is after the attention of a local bad boy, dragging her buddy Beth (Annette DeNoyer) to a party which will test their moral boundaries (and big band dance moves!); recently dumped dropout Scott (Brett Jacobsen) tries to woo a pair of twins (Jade and Nikita Ramsey) he suspects had a crush on him once upon a time; Rob (Marlon Morton) is the ‘Richard Dreyfuss’ of the group, spending the night on the hunt for a blonde bombshell (Madi Ortiz) only to be somewhat disturbed when he finds her in the unlikeliest of places; and new girl Claudia (Amanda Bauer) attempts to fit in at the ‘cool kids’ sleepover, only for it end disastrously.
The entire cast of newcomers are impressive, but Claire Sloma does feel like the breakout here (think a young Greta Gerwig). Not all of the plot threads maintain interest as others do; Rob’s hunt in particular seems to go nowhere until it suddenly ends up somewhere (which is perhaps the vaguest sentence I’ve ever written). The best and most surprising subplot is that involving Scott and the twins – watching the subtle power shifts in the trio’s relationship is something of a marvel, aided by excellent performances and Mitchell’s unassuming screenplay.
So deliberately paced you can practically see it wiping the sleep from its eyes, The Myth of the American Sleepover is not for those who expect nothing less than the frenetic pace of other high school flicks. But it’s all tonally appropriate. Once the sun sets, all sense of time and place disappears; the kids are forced to endure increasingly embarrassing and heartbreaking situations, and that pesky sun keeps on refusing to rise. Perhaps it’s because, deep down, none of them want it to. Teenagerdom is a horrible hellscape, but it’s our horrible hellscape. The Myth of the American Sleepover is a minor entry into the genre, but it more than adequately captures that heartbreaking time we all once shared, and leaves us with that feeling of longing – despite all sensible reasoning – we still have for it today.
The Myth of the American Sleepover arrives on DVD in Australia September 23, 2011.