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The Myth of the American Sleepover: Film Review

The Bottom Line

Sleepover is less a fully realized artistic expression than an able reworking of a well-worn genre.

Venue

South by Southwest Festival

Director

David Robert Mitchell

Cast

Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Brett Jacobsen, Nikita Ramsey

It takes either courage or ignorance for a first-time director to tell the kind of story John Hughes, Richard Linklater, Judd Apatow and George Lucas have already done so well, but David Robert Mitchell nearly pulls it off in "The Myth of the American Sleepover."

AUSTIN -- It takes either courage or ignorance for a first-time director to tell the kind of story John Hughes, Richard Linklater, Judd Apatow and George Lucas have already done so well, but David Robert Mitchell nearly pulls it off in The Myth of the American Sleepover.

So many filmmakers have depicted an endless night of teenage debauchery and self-discovery that an Airplane! -like spoof is probably in development. Sixteen Candles, Dazed and Confused, Superbad and American Graffiti have already gone there, not to mention Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Go.

And yet Mitchell still manages to plant a flag on this well-trodden territory by steering more toward drama than comedy, though he scores points on both fronts. Where he exceeds those films are sensual visuals that recapture summertime adolescence in all its vivacity.

Sleepover tells four stories that play out among a sprawling ensemble of teens. As in Dazed, their world is split between dewy-eyed freshmen and decadent upperclassmen who may be separated by just a few years chronologically, but eons in terms of worldliness.

Eager to transcend that gulf is Maggie (Claire Sloma), who skips out on the all-girls sleepover she was invited to attend in favor of chasing some older boys at a party. Taking her place at the sleepover is Claudia (Amanda Bauer), the new girl in town who attracts the attention of her host's boyfriend.

Rob (Marlon Morton) spends the night in search of a blonde siren with whom he becomes infatuated after a chance encounter at the grocery. On a similar trajectory is Scott (Brett Jacobsen), a college junior who seeks to dull the pain of getting dumped by a girlfriend by going to elaborate lengths to pursue twins (Nikita and Jade Ramsey).

Mitchell nails the blustery display of cursing and smoking many teens affect to mask their immaturity. In one of the film's funniest moments, a girl who brings marijuana to the sleepover loses serious street cred when she starts laying the seeds out on a mirror as if she was snorting cocaine.

The storylines are slight but Sleepover operates best on a sense-memory level, anyway. Mitchell conveys all this sexual anxiety and yearning in an artful jumble of tawny limbs and peachfuzz. If his camera lingered any longer on all that pubescent skin, we'd be headed for Larry Clark territory.

The odd but endearing thing about Sleepover is that real teens probably won't recognize themselves in these characters; there's such an absence of cultural signposts in the film -- no texting or slang -- that its story could just as easily be taking place 30 years ago. Sleepover is set in Detroit, not that you could tell, either. It's as if Mitchell's intention was to capture Anywhere, USA, circa Anytime, to give Sleepover a fever-dream quality.

Occasionally, one of Sleepover's characters emerge from their hormonal fog to speechify on the predicament that is teenhood in a way that's pure Hughes. If there's a Molly Ringwald equivalent for Mitchell, it's Sloma, an enchanting pixie who dazzles in all the right places.

Sleepover is less a fully realized artistic expression than an able reworking of a well-worn genre. Still, it may be just a matter of time before Mitchell finds the right distance from his influences to find his own vision.

Venue: South by Southwest Festival
Production company: Roman Spring Pictures
Cast: Claire Sloma, Marlon Morton, Amanda Bauer, Brett Jacobsen, Nikita Ramsey, Jade Ramsey, Annette DeNoyer, Wyatt McCallum, Mary Wardell, Doug Diedrich, Dane Jones, Shayla Curran
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Screenwriter: David Robert Mitchell
Producer: Adele Romanski
Music: Serena Keller Undercofler
Production Designer: Jeanine Nicholas
Art Director: Messina Toland
Editor: Julio Perez
Cinematographer: James Laxton
Sales agent: George M. Rush
No MPAA rating, 93 minutes