The Myth of the American Sleepover - Mary Wardell
Jen (Mary Wardell) and friends head to sleepover © 2011 Roman Springs Pictures

The Myth of the American Sleepover is like a contemporary but somberly realistic American Graffiti. It’s missing the hot rods, big laughs and Wolfman Jack, but it has the same affectionate sense of childhood’s-end melancholy and empathy for the romantic plights of its adolescent cast.

Both multi-character movies follow variously connected teens on the final day and night of a suburban summer. Both movies have a mysteriously elusive blond who remains just out of reach for most of the running time, both feature several concurrent and converging storylines, and nearly everyone in each movie ends up with someone appropriate despite missteps along the way.

Uninhibited Maggie (Claire Sloma) and her more reserved friend Beth (Annette DeNoyer) join Maggie’s pool-boy crush Steven (Douglas Diedrich) at an alcohol-fueled party on a lake. New girl in town Claudia (a very convincing young Scarlett Johansson lookalike named Amanda Bauer) accepts an invitation to a slumber party where she finds out more than she wants to know about her boyfriend. Rob (Marlon Morton) and Marcus (Wyatt McCallum) worry that they will be the only two incoming high-school freshmen who never have been kissed. And college dropout Scott (Brett Jacobsen) hopes to recapture his youth by reconnecting with a pair of younger twins he hasn’t been able to forget (Nikita Ramsey and Jade Ramsey).

Despite a few era-signifiers such as Maggie’s facial piercings, The Myth of the American Sleepover has a timeless quality that teenagers of any generation will appreciate. No matter when you were in high school, you probably can relate to the awkward frustrations, desperate longings, unexpected betrayals and (with any luck) romantic triumphs that these characters experience.

The Myth of the American Sleepover - Claire Sloma and Annette DeNoyer
Maggie (Claire Sloma) and Beth (Annette DeNoyer) ride bikes at sunset © 2011 Roman Springs Pictures

First-time feature director David Robert Mitchell’s thoughtful screenplay avoids the phony histrionics, forced hilarity and hormones-gone-wild smuttiness that ruins too many coming-of-age movies. The wistful Steven, who thinks playing bygone board games as a child was more fun than teenage keg parties and skinny-dipping, gets some of the movie’s most insightful lines.

“I actually liked when my friends had sleepovers,” he says. “I guess it’s the kind of thing you miss when you’re too old to do it anymore…they trick you into giving up your childhood with all these promises of adventure, but once you realize what you’ve lost, it’s too late. You can’t get it back.”

The only plot that veers a little too Hollywood is Scott’s pursuit of the beautiful twins Ady and Anna, who accuse him of wanting some “menage a twin” action. Thankfully, their encounter doesn’t end with anything resembling that sort of pandering payoff.

The Myth of the American Sleepover is a mostly low-key affair that’s the diametric opposite of raucous teen comedies such as Superbad. What’s impressive is how entertaining a quiet movie like this can be when its characters are so recognizably real and well defined.

[Rating: 3.5]

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.