Tuesday, February 28, 2012


David Robert Mitchell must love George Lucas's early-60s-set small-town-California teenage hangout American Graffiti as much as I do, for his stunningly assured debut is a modern southeastern-Michigan version of that film. It may not be quite as good and certainly doesn’t have quite the same haze of nostalgia over it, but it’s so honest and true in such a tender, casually poetic way. I really liked this movie. The teenaged characters – all young, inexperienced actors, uniformly convincing – are so wonderfully drawn and relatable, their lived-in environments so pitch-perfect in design. This is a low-key film in which characters stand on a precipice between adolescence and adulthood, ready to move forward, but not too sure about it. The myth of the American sleepover is that anyone gets much sleeping done. The myth of the American teenager is that it’s some concrete zone between adulthood and childhood. It’s a sliding scale, a turbulent, confusing, internal struggle that destabilizes even as it forges one’s personality anew. The twenty-four lazy summer hours we follow these characters have few big revelations or shocking plot twists, though there are some moments that come close. What we get instead is much sweeter and more authentic. Characters fumblingly relate to one another, making new connections, as old ones are breaking apart. As these characters spend time together in various configurations, they struggle to communicate with each other, hesitating before revealing too much, before stepping wrong in a conversation. It's as funny as it is truthful and moving. They’re filled with conflicting emotions and deep yearning for connection in ways that are specifically adolescent and transcendently universal. This film appears to know so much and communicates in such lovely ways of subtle beauty that Mitchell can count himself nearly in the same debut darling league as other three-name American auteurs David Gordon Green and Paul Thomas Anderson.

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