Each week on “Unknown Pleasures,” Jake recommends a film whose reputation has fallen to the wayside, and has since become underseen, underrated, or undervalued. This week, it’s David Robert Mitchell’s The Myth of the American Sleepover.
David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is not just one of best films of 2015, it’s perhaps one of the finest horror films ever made. Featuring a terrific dreamlike atmosphere, gorgeous visual aesthetic and outstanding electronic score by Disasterpeace, the film’s secret success lies in how well Mitchell utilizes his cast, eschewing familiar genre tropes and stereotypes to present the audience with tangible, relatable characters. It’s a highly impressive feat, and one I was surprised to find that Mitchell has already pulled off beautifully with his feature-film debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover. An exquisite coming-of-age tale that perfectly captures the unfettered pressures of budding romances, social expectations, and uncertain futures, American Sleepover is a remarkable film, one that presents teenagers exactly how they are: people.
Set in a suburbia Michigan during the last day of summer, American Sleepover is comprised of an ensemble cast of characters in various age groups, each one yearning to create new memories or revisit former glories before the call of reality beckons them home. We follow four of them closely: There’s high-school freshman Maggie, an aspiring dancer eager to abandon “childish” concept of sleepovers to attend a more grown-up party and fit in with an older crowd; track and field star Amanda discovers a rift in her relationship when a secret diary is found at a slumber party; shy lad Rob is looking to make a connection with a pretty blonde girl he spied in a grocery store; and college senior Scott makes a voyage across town to University of Michigan to locate Ady and Anna, twin sisters with whom he had a crush on in high school.
This film would not nearly be as successful as it is without the performances. Everyone is perfectly cast in their role, and there is not a bad performance in the bunch. Although this is a largely untested group of unknowns and non-actors (and almost exclusively no adults), this actually works in the film’s favor, because everyone walks, talks and acts like a believable teenager. Oh, the beauty of it! Teenagers accurately portraying teenagers. For such a micro-budgeted, independent film, this is a master-class in naturalism. In the hands of Mitchell, who also scripts here, characterization is of the utmost priority, and he’s not concerned with assigning annoying character quirks or teen movie stock-character clichés (i.e., jock, nerd, popular girl, etc.) to generate pathos. Instead, he elects to treat everyone as a human, and his film is all the better for it.
Much like It Follows, American Sleepover does not take place in a discernible time period. Movies and music playing within the film exude a retro feel, everybody commutes on a bicycle, and nobody seems to own a cellular phone. The details are positively refreshing, and Mitchell is not out to merely evoke the ethos of a forgotten time, but to capture the exuberance of youth, and all of the accompanying emotions and feelings that coincide with spirited adolescence.
If I had watched this film when I was 15 I probably would have hated it, or at the very least passed it off as boring. Seeing it now at 25, I find that the picture resonates deeply with me, probably now more than it ever will. The Myth of the American Sleepover is a tremendous picture, and David Robert Mitchell crafts with such sincerity and heart that it’s impossible not to walk away without a smile on your face. When I first saw It Follows, I was under the impression that I was witnessing a director hone their skills as a filmmaker that I was amazed to find he was actually building upon something he had perfected many years prior.