An earnest, ethereal riff on the one-night-in-a-high-school-caste-system interwoven-narrative ensemble piece, writer-director David Robert Mitchell's feature debut spans the last night of summer in a cloistered Michigan suburb. High schoolers Maggie (Claire Sloma, a pierced punkette) and Beth (Annette DeNoyer, perfectly just-pubescent nerdy) bike between a tame sleepover and a cool-kid kegger; new girl Claudia (Amanda Bauer) swiftly finds herself tangoing with the local mean girls; incoming freshman Rob (Marlon Morton) quasi-stalks a blonde mystery girl; and Scott (Brett Jacobsen), home from college, pursues a pair of just-graduated twins (Jade and Nikita Ramsey).
When it comes to the atmospherics of that fertile transition point between school years, this pre-cellphone period piece — hazily innocent even as it's sketching out the odder, darker corners of adolescent desire — gets a lot right. The constant presence of music — think Dazed and Confused, with the Magnetic Fields swapped in for Foghat — nails both the teenage fantasy of living life to a personal soundtrack, and a high schooler's heightened hunger to experience everything all at once.
An editor by trade, Mitchell shows more talent for defining situation and feeling via crosscut gazes than he does through dialogue, which here is often conspicuously precise. But of the uneven young non-actor performers, Sloma is always interesting to watch: She's even almost credible when tasked with delivering the film's thesis in the form of a lesson learned. —Karina Longworth
THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER | Written and directed by DAVID ROBERT MITCHELL | Sundance Selects | Nuart