With "The Myth of the American Sleepover," first-time writer-director David Robert Mitchell tells a coming-of-age tale with such freshness and such bemused insight it's as if it has never been told before. Its setting, in the present, is an idyllic Michigan suburb on the last night of summer — just before a new school year starts. Mitchell may focus on several young people but deftly characterizes three to four times that number, and not surprisingly the film won the acting ensemble prize at the South by Southwest Film Festival last year. Mitchell's poignant film marks a significant screen debut not only for the writer-director but also his youthful cast.
In the course of a very long night, these young people try to connect with one other, to pursue certain individuals, to get to all the parties in their spread-out neighborhood — to have fun and to feel adventurous and, above all, experience a sense of belonging. Key are Claire Sloma's Maggie, a pert blond with a pixie haircut, determined to make an impression; Marlon Morton's Rob, intent on tracking down gorgeous twin sisters (Nikita and Jade Ramsey); and Brett Jacobsen's Scott, captivated by a glamorous blond (Madi Ortiz).
It turns out that virtually all of Mitchell's people are highly vulnerable, even those who put forth a fairly convincing façade of self-confidence. The filmmaker may find some of their self-discoveries amusing, but he is above all deeply compassionate.
"The Myth of the American Sleepover's" true achievement — and its strong pull— is in evoking a coming of age as it should be rather than the way it really is.
"The Myth of the American Sleepover." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. At the Nuart through Thursday.