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The Myth of the American Sleepover (David Robert Mitchell, 2010)


Teen desires run deep but never quite ignite in David Robert Mitchell’s debut feature The Myth of the American Sleepover. This unusually, almost comically sensitive film thrives on uncertainty. Taking place in a nonspecific suburban locale (it’s somewhere in Michigan) in a time that is difficult to pin down (there’s a Spongebob doll in the background of one scene, but little else here feels contemporary), this quiet little movie seems wholly uncomfortable in its own skin. Given that it follows a group of awkward teenagers over the course of a typical, end-of-summer night, the film’s overwhelming sensation of insecurity is either entirely appropriate or caused by an acute case of first-time-director jitters. Either way, Sleepover takes its time making its intentions known. Mitchell is after something here that is subtler than a rote initiation narrative, but only barely. He wants to examine the bubble that bursts when romantic intentions are declared. The central dilemma here is that one cannot reclaim lost innocence. “I like you, and not, like, everything has to happen tonight,” one of the teens inarticulately states, summing up what’s on this movie’s mind in a typically too-blunt line of dialogue.


Mitchell directs The Myth of the American Sleepover with a ponderous hand. Every moment is amplified and made to feel pregnant. Nostalgia permeates everything, to the point where it becomes portent. The film aims for a lyricism that lives in subtle gestures, but its sidelong glances and glancing brushes of skin contact start to feel like clichés. The gauzy, low-fi visuals and heavy use of color filters underscore every hint of mood. We seem to be looking at these teens through the eyes of someone much older and more cynical, which brings to mind Sofia Coppola’s similarly wistful and entirely more successful The Virgin Suicides. As this group of kids stalk one another across their small town, it becomes obvious that yearning is epidemic. That’s hardly a revelation to anyone who’s post-adolescent, and there’s little else connecting the various plot threads here. One begins to feel that Mitchell should aim for higher emotional highs than he does if he’s going to focus on the sensations of being a teen. It would take a master filmmaker to achieve the kind of low-key revelations that Mitchell tries for here (think Claire Denis’ Friday Night). Mitchell seems to be at best a promising talent with his heart in the right place. The narcoleptic, resigned tone that dominates The Myth of the American Sleepover doesn’t make us regret what we’ve lost. It mostly implies that being young is a major bummer.



Jeremy Heilman