Director Richard Linklater has always insisted that Dazed And Confused, his coming-of-age classic about the last day of school in small-town Texas in 1976, is about painful memories, but the music, the dialogue, and the décor are so awash in period nostalgia that its tone is at best bittersweet—and more often raucous. (Ditto American Graffiti and the early 1960s.) Set during the last day of summer, David Robert Mitchell’s The Myth Of The American Sleepover owes a clear debt to both films, but it doesn’t take place in any specific time period, and that’s a key distinction. There are no cell phones or Internet, and the cars on the road are nondescript; beyond that, the backdrop is a Detroit suburb where the kids mostly get around on foot and their problems and desires are generalized to the point where time and place are rendered irrelevant. It’s a film where the feelings and experiences of young people are highly specific in detail, yet fundamentally universal and timeless.
Among a sprawling cast of characters slipping in and out of parties and sleepovers—all of them new faces, ably mimicking (intentionally or not) the awkwardness of youth—four stand out: Claire Sloma as an incoming high-school freshman who leaves a slumber party to crush on an older kid; Amanda Bauer as a cross-country runner who stays long enough at the slumber party to make a move on the host’s boyfriend; Marlon Morton as a virgin who fecklessly pursues a glamorously blonde girl he spies at the grocery store; and Brett Jacobsen as a college dropout who drives all the way to an orientation sleepover at the University Of Michigan to figure out which of two identical twins (Nikita and Jade Ramsey) had a thing for him in high school.
This last subplot sounds like the setup for a bad ’80s sitcom: Two hot twins, one guy trying to bed one (or both), confusion over which one is which. But while Mitchell gets some great laughs over Jacobsen’s desperate, painfully misguided attempts to peel one of the siblings off from the other, the evening ends in a less expected and more substantial place than it begins. So, too, the rest of Myth Of The American Sleepover, a coming-of-age movie that evokes the teenage experience through minor, incisive observation, then leaves without making anything so conspicuous as a statement.