Paramount Vantage
Jake Tusing stars in Nanette Burstein's "American Teen."
AMERICAN TEEN — *** — Documentary feature about Indiana high school students; rated PG-13 (profanity, vulgarity, slurs, brief drugs, violence, nude art)

It's hard to say whether "American Teen" really is an accurate portrayal of the "average" or "normal" U.S. teenager.

More likely than not, this documentary reflects the attitudes of a particular handful of teens at a particular high school at this period in time.

However, the film holds our interest throughout. And at times it's a painful reminder of the clique-ishness and resulting socially awkward atmosphere of public-school education.

"The Kids in the Picture" filmmaker Nanette Burstein had considerable access to some of the students at Warsaw Community High School in Indiana.

Like many cities and towns in the Hoosier State, Warsaw is a bit basketball-crazy, so one of the more popular students at the school is a so-called "jock": talented hoops player Colin Clemens, who hopes to get an athletics scholarship so he can go to college.

Colin is certainly not as privileged as rich-girl Megan Krizmanich, a student body officer and school mover-and-shaker who plans to go to Notre Dame when she graduates.

Their classmates aren't finding things nearly as easy. Hannah Bailey is crippled by self-doubt as she tries to return to school after a painful breakup with her longtime boyfriend. And supposed "band geek" Jake Tusing just wants to find a girlfriend.

A few things here seem like they may have been either scripted or set up in advance. (When school hunk Mitch Reinholt starts taking an interest in Hannah, it feels like Burstein is trying to remake "Pretty in Pink.")

But her subjects are refreshingly honest in their opinions. It's amusing to watch the consternation of Megan, who can't understand why she's nearly booted from school for vandalizing another student's home. (She even sprays some offensive language on the windows.)

"American Teen" is rated PG-13 for scattered strong profanity (including a couple of uses of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), suggestive talk and references, derogatory slurs and language (some based on sexual preference), brief drug references (as well as scenes of underage drinking and smoking), video-game violence and glimpses of nude art. Running time: 101 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com