When you’re a teenager, the last days of summer take on a kind of sanctified status – responsibilities loom ahead and the dog days are behind you. David Robert Mitchell’s tender, observant debut feature “The Myth Of The American Sleepover” follows several young souls in a listless suburban town that seems to stretch on for miles and miles of pale blue roads and identical picket fence houses. Over the course of a single night, a substantial (and almost uniformly Caucasian) cast of non-professional actors spills out across town to a host of sleepovers, hangouts by the lake and whatever soul searching they manage to salvage.
Mitchell sets the sleepy town in what appears to be the early 90s, with nary a social network in sight. It’s an interesting choice, probably done more out of concern that watching someone text or yammer on a cellphone is not very compelling on screen. It proves to be the film’s saving grace, as it gets off to a rocky start, full of casual dialogue delivered at just above a whisper and the cast alternately shrugging or shuffling through scenes. Just when it looks like yet another small-town mini-drama, Mitchell (who also wrote the script) turns his would-be diminishing returns into a warm series of observations about love, lust, jealousy and youth in transition on an endless summer night.
He elects to do so by following four main characters – Maggie (Claire Sloma), Rob (Marlon Morton), Scott (Brett Jacobsen), and Claudia (Amanda Bauer). The names are for reference’s sake, it feels as though they are barely mentioned in the film, but you will undoubtedly connect with at least one of the performers. Sloma’s Maggie was this writer’s favorite as a refreshingly unreserved young woman struggling with feelings of what could be love for the first time. Morton’s Rob meanwhile spends the night looking for a girl he’d seen in a supermarket, building her up to be “the one” and hoping she might feel the same way.
Scott, returning to his hometown and unsure of how to get a proper grip on looming adulthood, also searches for a possible holy grail: twin sisters Ady and Anna Abbey (Nikita and Jade Ramsey). How Mitchell treats the timeless fantasy of a three-way romance will doubtlessly endear you to the film. Last but not least, Claudia, the new girl in town, navigates the unpredictable terrain of old lovers and jilted vengeance. The threads are cut together with enough grace to not feel forced and as the night goes on and emotions complicate and pile up, each character’s arc is laid out gently, with a few choice words or a poignant look.
Aided by James Laxton’s excellent low-budget cinematography, Mitchell capitalizes on the minor moments that can instantaneously unite people or tear them apart. A touch here, a meeting of the eyes there, Laxton’s camerawork capably puts you in the protagonists’ shoes or catches disembodied hands or feet reaching out to touch, to experience that sensation of connecting with a stranger for the first time. “The Myth of the American Sleepover” frequently feels like a film that is reaching out to you to make friends or maybe more. Whether it’ll attain that intimacy depends on the individual viewer but Mitchell’s first film feels like a labor of love and an honest one at that. [B+]