Generally favorable reviews - based on 29 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 18 out of 29
  2. Negative: 1 out of 29
  1. Shows how a documentary can be as moving and suspenseful as the best narrative feature.
  2. 100
    The documentary American Teen is the most realistic movie you will see all summer.
  3. The players are timelessly familiar in American Teen, too. But filmmaker Nanette Burstein tells their stories with a distinctly 21st-century pop and audacity.
  4. Reviewed by: Zack Haddad
    Never has a film captured the spirit of being a teenager better.
  5. So authentic are the subjects, so raw their emotions.
  6. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    The kids are real and their stories enthralling: When it comes to drama, there's nothing quite like high school.
  7. 83
    Though it's compelling enough as soap opera, American Teen digs deeply into why kids grudgingly accept the roles they've been given and the brutal consequences that come with straying outside the lines.
  8. 75
    Reality tv, welcome to the multiplex. If "The Hills" went back to high school and developed wit, perception and a conscience, it might play something like Nanette Burstein's wallop of a doc.
  9. 75
    American Teen isn't as penetrating or obviously realistic as her "On the Ropes," but Burstein has achieved an engrossing film.
  10. As close to fraudulent as a documentary can get and still be worth seeing.
  11. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Though it could work as effectively as a television vehicle, American Teen is revealing, funny and involving.
  12. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Parents are another matter. Almost to a man and woman they lay expectations on their children that ignore who those children are.
  13. An entertaining slice-of-life documentary that gets ever more fascinating as it moves along.
  14. Reviewed by: Ella Taylor
    Even when it's ripping off "Juno" and "The Hills," American Teen is fascinating in the way of every good documentary--the more time you spend with anyone, the more they surprise you.
  15. What makes Nanette Burstein's movie so powerful is its uncanny sense of familiarity.
  16. Like much reality TV, sections of American Teen seem patently staged, or coached, for the camera.
  17. 63
    The movie is entertaining on a superficial level, but there's little beneath the surface.
  18. So is the result just a case of life imitating pop art, or has the director shaped the footage to enhance the imitation?
  19. For all of its access and exposure, American Teen seems skin-deep. It's well shot, with good production values and lots of cool music. But it's fun and facile in much the same way reality TV is.
  20. The kids here do come across as genuine people, struggling with issues everyone can understand.
  21. The movie does get under your skin (the tremulous misfit girl, Hannah, might be a breakout role model), but the way it has been put together reminds me of those animal shows where the crew nudges the gazelles in the direction of the lions with multiple cameras standing by.
  22. 60
    This is the kind of movie the people in it might have made, which means that its revelatory power as an investigation of teenage life in America is limited.
  23. Reviewed by: Dennis Harvey
    Undeniably entertaining for its zippy presentation.
  24. Reviewed by: Bob Mondello
    The students all say and do more than they should in the filmmaker's presence, which certainly makes them watchable -- sort of a slow-motion train wreck.
  25. 50
    The poster art for Nanette Burstein's American Teen, which follows five students through their senior year at a high school in Indiana, is modeled after the one for "The Breakfast Club." So, to a large extent, is this ultra-slick and predictable documentary.
  26. Unsurprisingly, the formulaic "Breakfast Club" casting yields a formulaic narrative.
  27. Reviewed by: Michael Ordona
    Here are casual cruelty, crushing heartbreak and pressure from parents and peers, all of which can involve the viewer but are nothing revelatory.
  28. 50
    This being senior year, Burstein can't help but capture some genuine drama, but there's a stage-managed quality to the movie that reminded me of MTV reality shows.
  29. At times it's almost like "Lord of the Flies," with the camera serving as the flypaper dipped in the honey of the promised land of celebrity.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 6 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 3 out of 5
  2. Negative: 0 out of 5
  1. AnthonyK.
    Dec 30, 2008
    Not good, not good at all. Were it not a (completely scripted) "documentary", this would be the most unremarkable film of the year. As it stands, it's still pretty unremarkable. Don't waste your time. Full Review »
  2. JayH.
    Dec 16, 2008
    Fascinating documentary, and gives a very insightful look at American teenagers. It makes you think and you do care about the teens in the story. I do question the sincerity, it seems a little odd that these teens do some of the things they do on camera, particularly acts of vandalism. Full Review »
  3. DaleM
    Sep 8, 2008
    This movie claims to be a documentary but felt contrived. Are we supposed to imagine these people don't notice the camera? Are they hamming it up as they do in reality TV or are they rehashing the past or are they reading from a script? The characters come off all too often as stereotypes. Take away the idea that the film is a documentary and you are left with a boring and failed attempt to be American Graffiti for the present decade. Full Review »