VOD film review: The Myth of the American Sleepover
Ivan Radford | On 02, May 2019
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Brett Jacobsen, Claire Sloma
Watch The Myth of the American Sleepover online in the UK: MUBI UK
“I guess guys don’t call them sleepovers,” says one teenager in The Myth of the American Sleepover. “Not publicly,” comes the reply. It’s a tiny moment of insightful observation, in a movie packed full of them.
The film marked the debut of David Robert Mitchell, a director who would go on to make the terrifying It Follows several years later. A small, sensitive, slight coming-of-age drama, it’s hard to imagine a more disparate double-bill, but the pair share more than their progenitor in common; where It Follows dealt with teen sex, as both the instigator of and possible saviour from pedestrianised doom, The Myth… deals with its absence; where one is about confronting terror and adulthood face on, the other is about gazing remotely at its looming onset; it’s a coming-of-age film with nobody coming of age (ahem), a story of adolescent wondering at the unknown expanse to come, and the wistful longing for the brief, fleeting moments that have already gone.
We follow a group of teens in Detroit, as they find their way through a single night, one of criss-crossing romances and hair-twirling curiosity. On the last eve of summer, they hope to find romance in some form, but are also too innocent for that form to blossom; this is a universe where “like” is the word of the day, where trepidatious hand-holding and politely pecked kisses are the trophies of adolescent dreams. Scott (Brett Jacobsen) emerges as one of the key players in this ensemble, as he goes back to his home town to find the pair of twins he had a crush on at school. Which was one it? Both? Neither? It doesn’t really matter. Like the girls at a sleepover playing with a Ouija board, part of this rite of passage is pretending to know what you’re doing, or waiting for something to happen with someone else who does.
There are those who are more determined and assertive than others – dancer Maggie (Claire Sloma) steals a scene with a jazzy dance number, while Claudia (Amanda Bauer) has her own moves she wants to pull in the direction of another girl’s boyfriend – but the mood of the film is as aimless as its protagonists, who mostly spend their time wandering about hoping for a hook-up. Whatever that is.
It’s a young film in more sense than one, and while there’s little substance or plot, that naive quality is what makes it so effective; whether it’s the dread of a monster stalking you or the breezy waft of time floating past, Mitchell’s a master of crafting atmosphere through details and character. His non-professional cast are all entirely convincing (they yearn with the best of them), and his ability to draw from them a naturalism that rings with universal specificity is what makes him such a versatile and engrossing storyteller. “They persuade you to give up your childhood for nothing,” one character reflects, towards the end – a sole voice debunking a myth, from the only person who does know what follows.
The Myth of the American Sleepover is now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.