Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With the fall movie season upon us, we wave goodbye to the warmer months with some of our favorite films about the end of summer.
David Robert Mitchell’s second feature, It Follows, received a lot of attention from critics and audiences; even as a modest-grossing horror movie, it was seen by several hundred times more people than his micro-released debut. But that film, The Myth Of The American Sleepover, is well worth seeking out. It has plenty in common with Mitchell’s more famous film: teenage characters, naturalistic dialogue, and widescreen compositions that feel, at some moments, as if they could be showcasing any suburb in America, but are in fact capturing Michigan. As such, Sleepover now plays almost like an It Follows prequel—a glimpse at teenage lives a few years before the horror of adulthood starts to approach. But it’s also a wonderful movie in its own right.
Sleepover takes a now-familiar last-day-of-school/first-night-of-summer structure and applies it instead to the last day and night before school starts again (not unlike American Graffiti, though with more bikes and fewer cars). Its characters drift between childhood and young-adult status, exemplified by the film’s various parties: adolescent sleepovers like the one that new girl Maggie (Claire Sloma) is invited to by a new sorta-friend from her dance class, and a more outwardly debauched version thrown by kids just a year or two older, what another character describes as a “swimming and drinking kind of party.” Even an older guy like Scott (Brett Jacobsen), about to enter (or possibly drop out of) his senior year of college, hasn’t yet graduated to more grown-up pursuits, and spends much of the night tracking down a girl who may have had a crush on him in high school.
Lots of the characters nurse crushes that seem like the product of boredom as much as lust or puppy love. Rob (Marlon Morton) sees a girl he doesn’t recognize while he’s at the supermarket with his mother, and searches for her for most of the movie, knowing little about her except that he wants to stake some sort of claim. The movie beautifully captures this sense of indiscriminate longing, helped along by a mostly unknown cast of actors who look and sound like real kids.
As with his horror movie, Mitchell sets Sleepover out of time; though his characters are basically modern teenagers, they conspicuously lack the most recent technology (no one casts their eyes down to a cell phone; sometimes even the source of music that plays in teenagers’ cars is left ambiguous, and just as many characters ride their bikes, anyway). Most of the media glimpsed in the film is some kind of retro, from the monster movies characters watch on TV to vintage-looking porn mags at a boy-heavy sleepover. Through this dreamy evocation of no particular time, The Myth Of The American Sleepover locates itself in a kind of permanent, recent past—a time that seems to be fading into memory even as it unfolds.
Availability: The Myth Of The American Sleepover is available on DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased from the major digital outlets.