Already a Blue Plate Special at film festivals in New Zealand, Sarajevo, Seoul and São Paulo, an extremely low-budget teenage flick called The Myth of the American Sleepover is the kind of home movie that gives indie-prods a bad name. In the press notes, a photo of the young film-school graduate David Robert Mitchell, who makes his writing-directing debut, looks like he’s about 14 years old. Could this explain the immaturity and naïveté that permeate this empty, boring overdose of innocent incompetence fueled by massive amounts of chloroform?
Set in Michigan on the last night of summer before the new high school year begins, four stories are relayed simultaneously. This is the night when every kid in town ends up sleeping on the grass, in the gym or on somebody’s living-room floor. Maggie, a blonde with pierced lips and a passion for throwing herself into impromptu dance routines that look choreographed for Marilyn Monroe, eschews the sleepovers in order to flirt with a poolboy named Steven. Claudia, a newcomer, is shunned by the other girls because she already has a boyfriend. Rob, a kid who looks like he just got out of kindergarten, spends the evening searching for a sexy blonde he stalked earlier in the day at the supermarket but hangs out at the pool instead, plucking his guitar and oblivious to the fact that his best friend, Marcus, is madly in love with him. Scott, a college junior, returns to the sophomoric high school ambience of his youth, hoping to recapture an old crush he had on a pair of sexy twin sisters. This is the weakest section, because he’s too old for the others, out of his element and emotionally removed from their world—distancing the audience in the bargain. The girls are headed to Janelle Ramsey’s sleepover. The boys are going to Tom Higgins’s house. The style: a snippet of brain-dead talk here, a camera angle there. It hops around so much it’s difficult to tell what’s going on, and I seriously doubt that any filmgoer over the age of puberty will care.
Do festivalgoers in Poland and Thessaloniki actually believe American teenagers pass their time in sleeping bags? These are the kinds of kids who hold hands but are too shy to actually kiss, so they give up and watch cartoons. Sometimes they lie on the lawn and search the sky for meteors. Then they drink wine, throw up and head for the local swimming hole. I find watching a movie about them about as interesting as counting cracks in a sidewalk. It is never clear what planet these kids are from. Nobody owns a laptop, iPod or cell phone. There is no sign of a parent in sight. The movie is so clueless and time-warped it could be comprised of outtakes from Father Knows Best. Whatever happened to troubled teens like James Dean, Natalie Wood and Dennis Hopper? Teens were more troubled—and more fun—in the 1950s.
The cast is composed of eager amateurs who have never acted before, and the lack of experience shows. The young director, whose day job is editing commercials, has never made a narrative feature-length movie before and shows no aptitude for it here. On his way to realizing his ambition, I wish him luck. But my advice is: Never show anyone in a position to further your career The Myth of the American Sleepover.
THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER
Running time 93 minutes
Written and directed by David Robert Mitchell
Starring Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer