This week on the HomeVideodrome podcast, Hunter and Jim talk about the results of the Oscars as well as run-down this week’s releases. Head on over to The Film Thugs to give it a listen.
George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” set the standard for the nostalgic meaningful night-of-youth movie, and David Robert Mitchell’s “Myth of the American Sleepover” comes from the modern indie side of this tradition Lucas set before he disappeared into the abyss of a galaxy far, far away. Being a film populated by confused, hormonal teenagers, “Sleepover” hits on themes you’d expect it to, but does so in a way that invites adjectives like “understated,” “poignant” and other words critics apply to “little independent movies,” also known as “gems.”
Over the course of an evening, a plethora of parties and sleepovers invite four different Detroit kids on a nocturnal journey, navigating the fickle waters of teen crushes and relationships. A boy becomes smitten with a girl who passes by him in a grocery store and sets out in a desperate attempt to connect with her, fearing she’ll disappear once the school year begins. A girl discovers her boyfriend is the secret object of another friend’s affection, prompting impulsive and potentially hurtful emotional games at a party. Another girl crushes over a boy, but her attentions wax and wane as she and her best friend aimlessly travel from party to party.
The strangest plot thread involves a young man who comes home from college off the heels of a break-up and is reminded of a happy moment shared with a pair of twins during a high school play. He later sets out to find them at a nearby college campus without any substantial idea of as to why.
If this sounds like a meandering description, that’s because it is.
No doubt “Sleepover” seems as off-putting as its title, which makes the film sound like something insufferable that reaches for obnoxiously romantic notions of what it means to be a teenager, a concept the movie initially scoffs at, yet ultimately comes to embrace on a certain level. But like a lot of well-made indie movies, its strength lies in the emotions it tugs out, rather than in the specific nuts n’ bolts of the plot, a collage of moments that mixes “American Graffiti” with the awkward and sometimes painful tone of “Freaks & Geeks.”
“Sleepover’s” heart ultimately won me over, as it never devolves into the sort of Sundance slop its surface seems like it could become. It’s a film that savors moments certain to trigger nostalgia later in life, but maintains the perspective that these moments are learning experiences that shape who we eventually become, rather than define who we are.
After all, no one is at their best during their teenage years, something the movie understands. It uses a little too much of those rose-tinted spectacles at times, but it wouldn’t be a coming-of-age movie without a little hint of the old “ah, youth” feeling. So yeah, to bust out the hacky film critic book of phraseology: it’s an “understated, poignant gem,” one of the better films from a year of movies that seemed to be all about nostalgia.
Oh hey look, it’s on Netflix Instant too!
Other Noteworthy Releases
Hugo: Scorsese’s latest won big in the technical categories at the Oscars this year – go read my review to find out what I thought of the film.
Johnny English Reborn: I’ve never seen any of these movies, but I love me some Rowan Atkinson.
I Melt With You: I want to see this film, mainly because how incredibly venomous the response has been towards it due to its negative tone. Odd, given what a positive experience Mark Pellington’s last film, “Henry Poole is Here,” was.
Justice League – Doom: DC has done a great job with their animated direct-to-video output, as the recent “Batman: Year One” stands up with the best of the Dark Knight’s theatrical outings (whenever they reboot Batman again, they should get Bryan Cranston to play Gordon). It’s also nice to see Kevin Conroy playing the voice of Bruce Wayne again, having grown up with him voicing the classic Batman cartoon series.
Scarlet Street: After he fled to Hollywood, Fritz Lang made some killer film noir movies, and “Scarlet Street” was one of them, starring the great Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett as the obligatory femme fatale. Kino is giving this film their usual royal treatment, so this is a must for fans of Lang and/or the noir genre.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD
The Spiders: Another Fritz Lang film given the Kino treatment, this one being a silent, German epic adventure flick of his from 1919.
Vanya on 42nd Street: A Louis Malle film in which actors like Julianne Moore, Wallace Shawn, and Brooke Smith read through Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” as translated by David Mamet. I did a read through of “Uncle Vanya” in my high school theater class, something tells me this one would be more entertaining to watch. Whenever I see Mamet’s name attached to anything, my ears perk up. Available via Criterion.
This post originally appeared over at Parcbench.