Director Nanette Burstein wanted to create an entertaining honest portrait of the often misunderstood and written off demographic – the American Teen. Giving a fresh take on the genre highly defined by the archetypes of the popular girl, the jock, the geek and the rebel seems like a daunting task but Burstein took those labels and applied them not to the new Brat Pack, but instead to real kids from Warsaw, Indiana. At first, the four teens seemed like they’d been written: Megan is the queen bee who toilet papers a house after she’s been crossed, Colin has mad basketball skills; Jake plays in the school band and hasn’t gotten a handle on his teenage acne just yet; and Hannah is a free spirited artistic type who flails about at school dances and thinks everyone else is weird.
But those are all the things that Burstein wants us to notice on the surface. The queen bee actually has a traumatizing family history that might explain why she’s got a quick temper. Colin must get a college scholarship otherwise he’s off to the army. Jake has been a social outcast ever since he was bullied in grade school but is funny and cool but doesn’t know it yet. Hannah has a bout of depression early in the film, and is partly concerned she’s inheriting her mother’s manic-depression. She recovers (with off-camera help from Burstein) and returns to the lively girl who desperately wants to get out of Indiana.
The audience gets more into these teen’s lives than any fiction or reality show would allow, and on top of that, they’re treated to animation sequences that wonderfully illustrate the inner psyche of the teen that a talking head just wouldn’t have done justice. A narrative style borrowed from fiction films also brings the film a fresh take, almost teasing the teen fiction films that it’s so easy to elevate the teen genre.