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Saturday, January 24, 2009

American Teen & Sullivan's Travels

I've come down with yet another bad cold (ah the pleasures of working everyday with children) so I've already had time to screen two movies since beginning my blog.

American Teen (2008)

Follows a group of 4 teenagers as they make it through their senior year in Warsaw, IN. Each of them is fairly interesting on their own, especially Hannah as the school's rebel. Unfortunately, the director decided to select participants and shoot the movie in a fairly conventional way. At times, it feels more like average reality TV than an excellent slice-of-life documentary (a la Spellbound). The director chose these teens out of many that she filmed, and it's clear she was going for certain archetypes: The Jock, The Princess, The Rebel, and The Nerd.

What I found most interesting about the movie was its exploration of the pressures parents put on their children. Of the four main characters, only "The Nerd" seems to have a parent with his best interests at heart. The jock's dad gives him a choice between winning a scholarship and going into the army, the princess' dad pushes her hard towards Notre Dame, and, worst of all, Hannah's bipolar mother (who she doesn't even live with) basically tells her she's stupid for trying to leave Indiana and is destined to follow the unhappy and depressing path of her parents.

Grade: B-

Sullivan's Travels (1941)

I had seen this Preston Sturges movie a long time ago, but I forgot how wonderful it really is. It follows a Hollywood director (Joel McCrea) who dresses up a hobo so that he can understand the working man and make a production of a book called O Brother, Where Art Thou? (yes the Coen brothers movie is an homage). Along the way, he meets an aspiring starlet played beautifully by Veronica Lake. Mixes slapstick, witty dialogue, and social commentary. I was also impressed by the non-verbal sequences. There are several montages with no dialogue that give tell a complete story. Yes, the movie comes with a clear message, but it's told in a delightful rather than heavy-handed way. Definitely one of the best comedies of the 1940s.

Grade: A

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