I remember years ago coming across a deep-think sociology book arguing that teenagehood was actually a fabrication of the post-World War II years. Apparently before then there were just kids and adults.
I thought about this while watching “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” yet another tribute to teen cluelessness featuring interconnected stories taking place over a single summer night.
The difference between this movie and its many antecedents – including “Dazed and Confused,” a bushel of John Hughes movies, and, most conspicuously, “American Graffiti,” which should really get an acknowledgment in the credits – is that “Sleepover,” although ostensibly set in Michigan, seems to be taking place in Anywhere, USA. And even though it’s presumably contemporary, it looks as though it’s taking place decades ago.
This vagueness is, no doubt, intentional, though no less annoying for being so. First-time writer-director David Robert Mitchell is trying to universalize his exceedingly slim story by playing down the specifics.
It doesn’t work. I kept asking myself why none of these kids had cellphones. A teenage movie without texting is like a surfboard without a wave. And where are the adults in this film? Hardly a parent puts in an appearance. All of these omissions make “Sleepover” seem like science fiction.
The cast is star-power-challenged, which doesn’t help. One of the incidental pleasures of this genre is watching young actors poised for bigger and better things, but the performances here are rote at best. It’s a good thing Mitchell has four interconnecting stories to play around with, because none of them by itself holds up.
The most promising, maybe because it’s the creepiest, involves Scott (Brett Jacobsen), a college junior who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend and, returning home, fans a longtime crush on a pair of cute twins (Nikita and Jade Ramsey) who were in his high school class. He’s just your friendly hometown stalker, although the film goes to great pains to make it seem otherwise.
All-girl sleepovers, surprisingly tame, are contrasted with boys behaving badly – although, by the standards of, say, Judd Apatow movies, these kids are practically choirboys.
I find it fascinating that “Sleepover,” like “Super 8,” harks back to a time – or, to be more specific, a movie era, the ’70s and early ’80s – when teen-oriented movies were not top-heavy with gross-out gags. Instead of inventing non-slobola ways of depicting modern-era teens, Mitchell simply creates a time warp where past and present coexist in the same bland continuum. I can sympathize with the need to connect with teen audiences without having to resort to the usual antics, but the answer is not to swap the real world for a patently fake one.