Is high school like "The Hills"? Or "Friday Night Lights"? Do movies and television give the world an accurate portrait of what it's like to be a teenager growing up in America?
These are the questions brought up by documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein's new movie "American Teen." Three of the five subjects -- Megan Krizmanich, Hannah Bailey and Mitch Reinholt -- sat down with Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers to discuss their collective experiences on "Popcorn with Peter Travers" on ABC News Now.
"American Teen" is set in the small town of Warsaw, Ind., and focuses on five graduating high school seniors struggling through school and life, each from their respective social cliques. It won the Directing Award for a Documentary at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Following Sundance, the movie was picked up by Paramount Vantage for major distribution and opened in New York and Los Angeles on July 25.
"Nanette was very clear that she just wanted to capture the typical high school experience, and she thought that the Midwest would do a good job with that," explained Krizmanich. "She just wanted to capture the struggles different kids go through and the different types of experiences they can have throughout high school, which I think she did a good job of. I was amazed when I watched the movie, just the completely different experiences kids could have going to the same high school, going to the same, like, timeframe that I did but just had such a different grasp on it."
Having a camera crew tag along for 10 months of your senior year of high school isn't the easiest thing, as the students soon learned. "There were some of my friends that didn't want to be on the camera at all, so after a basketball game guys would be coming over to my house and, like, they'd ask if the cameras were coming. If I said yes, probably about half of them wouldn't come," recalled Reinholt. "Which is OK, they didn't have to be involved, but it kind of took away some of the time I had with them. But there's not a whole lot I can do about that. I don't think they disliked the cameras, they just didn't want to be there for it."
But soon they became accustomed to it. "It took about four, five or six weeks for me," said Bailey. "Somewhere around Halloween, they came trick-or-treating with us, with my family, with my friends. I didn't notice them that night. I don't even remember, but I know they were there because I saw the footage. We also started becoming really good friends with Nanette and the crew, so that helped a lot."
"At the end of the year, everybody kind of had a microphone on, so it was hard to differentiate who was being followed, like, intensely and who wasn't," added Krizmanich.
Despite Burstein's well-meaning intentions, it becomes challenging not to fall into stereotyping the different subjects and their respective social cliques.
"I think I kind of fit into my stereotype in high school," said Krizmanich. "I think a big thing in the movie is that we all kind of break the stereotypes at the end of it. We prove that no matter what clique you're in, everybody struggles in high school. It's kind of the same experience, a crappy experience for everybody. It's not easy for anyone, but I definitely played through the mean girl a little bit, I think. "