#218: The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010)

Remember the sanguine, hopeful and cheery years of youth? Through the bad skin, red hair and rotundly exterior, I recall these penny-sweet times with great fondness. American filmmaker and certified grown-up David Robert Mitchell recalls these times too, only with a bittersweet spin. He’d like to spend ninety minutes in your company mumbling about teen anomie and angst in the jejune flick The Myth of the American Sleepover.

Set in a nonspecific suburban locale around Michigan, with an eerily undeterminable time setting, this quiet little movie seems uncomfortable in its own skin. Like a modern day Lord of the Flies, in the unmitigated absence of adults, a group of awkward teenagers take rank during one summer night, all yearning for that one last-ditched attempt at hedonism before the school term starts.

Just like the first time director, almost all of the cast are total newbies, but at least they are acting their age. They all exhume a refreshing wide-eyedness to the unsympathetically dark mood of the film. Amongst the plethora of characters, we set off with Maggie (Claire Sloma) who, along with ugly duckling friend Beth (Annette DeNoyer), boycotts the thrills of pillow fights and Spice Girl sing-a-longs at a girls-only sleepover to pursue more mature endeavours, i.e. boys. Another girl, Claudia (Amanda Bauer), is the pretty new thing in town who awkwardly outstays her welcome at said sleepover when she is caught chirping someone else’s boyfriend in the basement.

Onto the meaty leading man parts, there’s Scott (Brett Jacobsen), a creepy college junior who’s back in his hometown trying to get lucky with the younger Abbey twins (Jade and Nikita Ramsey, the only would-be stars of the whole picture). Finally, there’s Rob (Marlon Morton) who is left besotted with an older blonde in a supermarket aisle and spends the whole night trying to find the potential love of his life. Throw in an extra handful of ancillary characters, a couple of bottles of cheap booze, a swimming pool, some heightened sexual tension and you’ve pretty much got the movie.

Only you don’t. Aside from a few more baudy elements, on paper, The Myth of the American Sleepover resembles a John Hughes film, or even something as outlandish as the American Pie series. What sets Mitchell’s film apart and, to it’s detriment, is that it takes everything so seriously; with themes of loneliness and apathy threading throughout. In a word, it’s unabatingly emo.

To be fair, this is a pretty confident spectacle for a directing debut. If you know anything about it’s successes over in the States you’ll appreciate how this is the quotidian “Sundance” film I’ve seen all year. A tiresomely indie affair; with a dark colour palette, dodgy pacing, allusions of grandeur, offbeat dialogue and a montage soundtracked by a Beirut song.

It’s a simplistic and empathetic premise, but Mitchell aims for a whimsy lyricism which feels unnecessarily mature and incongruity to his characters. It’s a great shame, Mitchell clearly has the talent to produce something of quality, but this isn’t it. The narcoleptic tone running throughout The Myth of the American Sleepover doesn’t make us want to relive those brilliantly stupid, carefree times of youth, it wants us to embrace boredom and grow up. Not now Mitchell, Ferris Bueller and I are having a day off.

IMDb it.

The Myth of the American Sleepover premieres at the ICA in London and the Showroom Workstation, Sheffield from Friday 31st August, 2012. Pick it up on Region 1 DVD here

#181: Melvin Goes To Dinner (2003)

Take to your seats. Dinner is served.

A mumblecore success and Audience Award winner at SXSW in 2003,  Melvin Goes to Dinner is an intricate relationship study of four people chatting over dinner about their struggle for satisfaction in life.

Following many failed attempts to reach his brilliantly surreal HBO sketch series Mr. Show, Bob Odenkirk (now Breaking Bad‘s Saul Goodman) turned his hand to directing this perspicuous comedy drama (or is that, ‘dramedy’?). His film centres around four people: reticent Melvin (Michael Blieden, also the film’s writer), aloof Sarah (Annabelle Gurwitch), shrewd Joey (Matt Price) and ‘anything-goes’ Alex (Stephanie Courtney). Brought together for one night at a local restaurant dinner table, the tentative foursome make idle small talk, asking the blasé questions about life, aspirations and career. But gradually, with the wine flowing and their guards’ dropped, their talk turns revelatory, and we see intimate glimpses of their complex and, on the most part, unspectacular personal lives.

Translated to the big screen from Blieden’s play, the film is never able to shake loose it’s theatrical impetus. With unnatural dialogue and contextual flashbacks and forwards driving the evening’s conversation, it’s more of a struggle than initially expected.

Looking at this nine years after it’s release, MGtD is a foretelling of America’s comedy talent, with bit parts from Kristen Wiig and Jenna Fischer, along with a couple of old favourites like an almost High Fidelity era Jack Black and David ‘never-nude’ Cross. All this talent in one film, yet it’s never as funny as the boundless, Woody Allen-esque situation allows for.

A film about social nattering, the eighty three minutes running time let’s us eavesdrop into the secret lives of these four embellished characters. If only they had something interesting to tell us.

IMDb it.