No matter how candy floss enjoyable Nanette Burstein’s documentary about four Midwestern high school seniors may be, our appetite for watching young people do silly, overly sincere, and sometimes brave things has been slaked by the glut of junk-food TV shows on the subject. Megan is the athletic mean girl whose friends suffer as outlets of her pressure to get in to Notre Dame; Jake seems comfortable dismissing himself as a “marching band supergeek,” but trembles with optimism when a girl might like him. Basketball jock Colin doesn’t say much; his dad, an Elvis impersonator, is louder in insisting he win a sports scholarship. And then there’s Hannah, who most hip city viewers will identify with. Quirkily pretty and independent, she fights for permission to move to San Francisco after graduation and be a filmmaker – qualities that seem to have caused Burstein to tie the film’s arc to her as she plummets into a depression, claws out of it in time to fall for a handsome jock, and then uses the fallout from the resulting clique warfare to help define herself.
With “reality” becoming increasingly fictionalized, we’re at once suspicious of the film’s truth and forgiving of its false moments – it’s just one more pleasant nothing. Though it’s the first cousin of a wholly disposable genre, the film aims for timelessness by avoiding topical issues. Being a little more specific, however, would at least have given it the distinction of a time capsule. Though the film crams together every tear and kiss, you can learn as much about the teens’ psyches by analyzing their MySpace pages.