A Year with American Teens

The zippy documentary American Teen says kids are anguished, mean, hopeful--just like in the movies

James Rexroad / Paramount Vantage

In this portrait of high school life, archetype flirts with stereotype.

In his afterword to Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov astutely observed that "reality" is "one of the few words which mean nothing without quotes." He was arguing that any event is channeled, distorted, enriched by our perspective--that there's no objective reality, really. Nabokov was writing in 1956, just before the film form called cinema verité proved that even truth-seeking documentaries could have a social agenda and decades before shows like The Real World, Survivor and Big Brother made "reality TV" a phrase that is meaningless without sarcasm. Today, with reality programs using scriptwriters and dramas going for that realistic shaky-cam vibe, the whole...

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