The Myth of the American Sleepover takes place during that fateful moment in so many teen films: the "last" night. American Graffiti had the last night before college, in Dazed and Confused, it was the last day of school. Here, it's the last night of summer, with kids cruising from house to house, looking for something they failed to get during the rest of the vacation as four big sleepovers take place simultaneously.
Four characters (and their "sidekicks") take center stage. Maggie (Claire Sloma) and Beth (Annette DeNoyer) blow off the sleepover they've been invited to, because Maggie is interested in Cameron (Stephen M. Francis III) and the more grown-up party he's attending, but quickly finds that Steven (Douglas Diedrich) is more interesting. New girl Claudia (Amanda Bauer) accepts an invite to a popular party thrown by Janelle Ramsey (Shayla Curran), but decides to cause trouble when she bonds more with Jen (Mary Wardell) than Janelle or the rest of her friends. Meanwhile, Rob (Marlon Morton) chases a blonde beauty (Madi Ortiz) across town, and Scott (Brett Jacobsen) returns from college in the wake of a failed relationship with thoughts of Abbey twins Ady and Anna (Nikita and Jade Ramsey).
The "myth" of the American sleepover is actually the one presented by those other teen movies; director/writer David Robert Mitchell's idea is to take the Graffitis and Dazeds and pop the bubble with a "last" night film that isn't so much a turning point as it is the beginning of a soft curve. Admittedly, there's a ridiculousness to the way those films depict a wildly divergent cross-section of teens and young adults all having crucial epiphanies and dramatic moments during the same 24 hours, but subtracting the big moments from "a night of big moments" also results in a fairly aimless movie. Mitchell's characters are all drifters, looking for something broad and vague. Mitchell might call it the simplicity or innocence of being a teenager, but to me the answers felt a little simplistic, nearly bringing the film back around to the same kind of neat resolution as the films that inspired him.
It helps that Mitchell has an impressive ensemble cast of age-appropriate actors, most of whom are charmingly authentic. Sloma says volumes with simple actions, like a turn of her head when Cameron blows her off, and a scene where she displays her "drunken talent" is one of the film's best moments. The character of Claudia could easily become a stereotypical, unlikable portrait of petty teen jealousy, but Bauer internalizes her feelings and plays the material with a subtle touch. Similarly, Jacobsen's broken-hearted loner could easily slip from one kind of sad to the other with too many soulfully wounded stares and quiet confessions, but he and Nikita Ramsey play a crucial scene just right (not to mention, Mitchell's material for Ramsey is also spot-on). Only Marlon Morton's performance feels flat and simple, but even then, he's not a detriment, just less impressive than his co-stars.
Films like Clerks and many similar "lounging about, doing nothing" films that followed seem to have influenced a generation of 21st century filmmakers, filmmakers who have taken that general idea and cranked up the awkward realism (mumblecore?). The modern independent movie (especially a romance or a comedy) is frequently about quiet characters making small connections along a shallow arc, and pulling it off without becoming listless or boring is a tricky task. I'm not against extremely low-key films (see Stranger Than Paradise), but Myth of the American Sleepover doesn't make much of an impact beyond the likability of its performers. It's less a film than it is a mood...a pleasant one, sure, but one that passes by.
The art for the DVD is the same as the art for the poster, with stylized cartoon artwork of the entire cast. The disc comes in a transparent Amaray case with nothing showing through on the inside, and no insert is included. (I'm curious as to whether the arrows used in one of the critics' quotes on the back is intentional or a Wingdings gaffe.)
The Video and Audio
IFC's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD presentation of Myth of the American Sleepover is a little underwhelming. Most of the film takes place at night, and although I didn't spot any egregious artifacts, blocking is still plainly visible in the shadows. The picture seems quite soft, potentially due to the slightly desaturated color timing Mitchell has chosen for the film. Blacks are more gray than anything, and there's little depth or dimension thanks to the look of the film. I also spotted a tiny bit of aliasing.
Dolby Digital 5.1 is pretty basic, as most of the film is quiet conversations in basements and bedrooms. The only time the surrounds get much action is when one of the songs cues up on the soundtrack. Dialogue is clean and easy to understand. A perfectly adequate soundtrack for the film in question. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided, although two moments involving sound effects (a slap and the click of a lighter) are bizarrely incorporated into the captions, in a way that I found unintentionally hilarious.
None, other than an original theatrical trailer. Additional trailers for Chalet Girl, Brighton Rock, An Invisible Sign, and Loosies play before the main menu.
Although I have my reservations, I'm still willing to recommend The Myth of the American Sleepover, solely on the strength of the film's central performances. Many modern viewers may find the minimalistic approach to be more of a plus than myself, and I imagine those who will find it to be a deal-breaker will already have a sense that this won't be the film for them.
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