The old folks don't get it.
And by old, of course, that means anyone who has been legally buying adult beverages for at least 10 years. See, the folks who are making movies or writing books about high school life are so far removed from high school that they're continually reverting to what high school was like for them, according to a group of Chicago teens who attended a recent screening of "American Teen," a film by Nanette Burstein, which opens today.
It's about the closest thing to what real high school kids go through, they say of the documentary, which spends a year with a group of students at a high school in Warsaw, Ind. In a way, it's a cheat-sheet look at what high school life is like now.
It's entertainment, but it's a teaching tool, a fly-on-the-wall view of the real, everyday lives of teens. In this film, you'll see basement parties and kids drinking and partying, with their parents hanging out a floor above them. You'll see teens deal with bad breakups and having sex or just simply trying to fit in and not be so socially awkward.
"People like to be very entertained in documentaries, but it's unusual. Often, they can be more educational, which is great, but if you can have something with substance, which is also highly entertaining, it is wonderful for audiences," Burstein says. "But it's so relatable. It's relatable to people of all generations. A lot of high school hasn't changed. And even though they're in small-town America, it's relatable to people in urban areas and of other races and cultures. Because it has to do with that search of identity and being able to be yourself when you're against all odds."
"American Teen" viewers meet five kids: Hannah (the artist), Colin (the jock), Megan (the mean girl), Mitch (the heartthrob) and Jake (the band geek). Though the locals quibble with the stereotypes, the film hits close to the truth, they say. They added that while they would have liked to have seen more of their lives mirrored, doing a bunch of homework and filling out college applications isn't exactly silver-screen material.
We sat down separately with a group of local students at the Breakfast Club—get it?—which is located right outside the West Loop, and later hung out with the film's "stars" at the Hollywood Blvd. Theatre in Woodridge to find out who relates to whom and how being a part of this film has changed the lives of the cast members.
First up, the "American Teens" (minus Hannah, who wasn't traveling with the group):
Colin Clemens: "I finally broke out of my social group. I had one group of friends in high school, and it wasn't that I didn't like people. I was just comfortable there. After this movie, I got to know Jake and Hannah a little bit, and they're opposites from me in a lot of ways."
Mitch Reinholt: "The time I got to share with these guys, no one can ever take that away from us. Overall, I wouldn't change a whole lot. Well, except I wouldn't break up with a girl over text message anymore."
Jake Tusing: "It helped me develop more confidence and see that more people liked me than I thought. People aren't as mean and heartless as I made them out to be in my mind in high school."
Megan Krizmanich: "I've made four new best friends. I like to walk away from an experience having no regrets, and that's how I feel about senior year. I wouldn't be the same person if I hadn't had this experience."
The Chicago teens, all from Northside College Prep High School, on their film counterparts:
Benjamin Garcia, 17: "The jock. I do four sports in three seasons. When I was coming into high school, I was thinking, 'Man, I've got to get a scholarship or something, because paying for college is going to be ridiculous.' My parents told me straight out, 'We're not going to pay for your undergrad, so you're going to have to find some way to pay for it.' "
Rana Marks, 18: "The artsy girl. But she was a little crazy. But I don't consider myself crazy. But I'm into theater. But I also play tennis, and I also could be seen as not the theater kid, as the girl who likes to dress up for school and be prissy. Or I think I would pick the [heartthrob] guy. He's the one guy who didn't seem like he was labeled to be in a certain category. He was dating the punky girl, so he went past the stereotype of the jock guy who could only be with his jock friends. Plus he was into musical theater. Totally me."
Preston Buehrer, 18: "The really eclectic girl who didn't hang out with one group. I never really hung out with one group of people until senior year. It's kind of fun to drift around. And she reflected me in that kind of way. She wasn't too attached to any one group. And she wanted to go to school in a big city, and she fought with her parents to go to school in a big city."
Jose Chota, 18: "I think I would have to go with the guy, the text-message-breakup guy. I've done that. I'm really bad. And although sometimes I don't feel like I hang out with one group, I saw how his friends influenced him a lot. And I realized that sometimes my friends do that to me."