American Teens Hog Spotlight; 'Boy A' Shies Away Amid summer's blockbusters, two films offer a change of pace: American Teen, a documentary that plays like fiction, and Boy A, fiction that feels true to life.
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American Teens Hog Spotlight; 'Boy A' Shies Away

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American Teens Hog Spotlight; 'Boy A' Shies Away

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American Teens Hog Spotlight; 'Boy A' Shies Away

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Two films out this week offer a change of pace from the summer blockbusters. Instead of superheroes, these movies feature realistic young people. Bob Mondello says "American Teen," which opens Friday, is a documentary that plays like fiction. And "Boy A," which opens today, is fiction that plays like real life.

BOB MONDELLO: At the start of "Boy A," a slender, young British guy, about 20 years old, faces an older man across a table, looking apprehensive.

(Soundbite of movie "Boy A")

Mr. PETER MULLAN (Actor): (As Terry) How do you feel?

Mr. ANDREW GARFIELD (Actor): (As Jack Burridge) I don't know. I'm shocked about my dream.

Mr. MULLAN: (As Terry) You're not good (unintelligible).

MONDELLO: It's not a dream, but sort of a dream come true — though it comes with decisions, and he's not used to making decisions.

(Soundbite of movie "Boy A")

Mr. GARFIELD: (As Jack Burridge) They said I could choose me ownname.

Mr. MULLAN: (As Terry) That's right.

Mr. GARFIELD: (As Jack Burridge) Any name?

Mr. MULLAN: (As Terry) You got one?

Mr. GARFIELD: (As Jack Burridge) I can't - I can't make up me mind.

MONDELLO: For a decade, he has been officially known as "Boy A." That's what the court called him when he was convicted of murder when he was just 10 years old. Now, Boy A, who decides to call himself Jack, has come of age and is being released into a world that thinks him a monster. He doesn't look like a monster. He looks terrified. But as he makes a friend and learns to deal with things that he hadn't had time to learn about before he went to prison — like restaurants — he starts to be less fragile.

Then, something terrible happens that seems wonderful as it's happening.

(Soundbite of movie "Boy A")

Mr. GARFIELD: (As Jack Burridge) She's alive.

MONDELLO: He rescues a child.

(Soundbite of movie "Boy A")

Mr. GARFIELD: (As Jack Burridge) You okay?

MONDELLO: Saves her life, is hailed as a hero, which gets his picture in the paper. So, his new identity starts to unravel.

(Soundbite of movie "Boy A")

Unidentified Man: The 23-year-old man was reported to resemble Eric Wilson. Wilson was recently released from prison.

MONDELLO: "Boy A," based on a novel, is carefully calibrated to explore the solitariness of a character who cannot let himself be known. Director John Crowley employs boyhood flashbacks and scenes of a romance Jack strikes up with a co-worker to let you grow attached to him before society lowers the boom.

Jack, as played by Andrew Garfield, is agonized and desperately anxious to get things right — something you might also say about the filmmakers, who have turned "Boy A's" very particular story into a scary, universal and wrenching social statement.

If there's a statement in the documentary "American Teen," it escapes me. That title sounds just as nonspecific as "Boy A's" title, but the film's Indiana highschoolers feel less universal than generic. Filmmaker Nanette Burstein follows her subjects through their senior year and shows us kids who seem to have been less intent on math and literature than on studying MTV's "Real World" and what kind of confessions work best on camera.

(Soundbite of movie "American Teen")

Mr. JAKE TUSING (High School Student): (As himself; the "Geek") I spend a lot of my time playing video games. I love "The Legend of Zelda." I don't have many friends, so it's always been really important to me to have a girlfriend. To be honest, I wish life were more like video games, 'cause then I'd always get the girl.

MONDELLO: This is the film's representative geek-with-acne. We also meet a personable jock, an overprivileged beauty queen, a handsome heartthrob, and an independent-minded rebel who seems to have her head screwed on straight.

Ms. HANNAH BAILEY (High School Student): (As herself; the "Rebel") I applied to San Francisco State University. They have an amazing film program, so I have completely made up my mind to stay away from anything like a boyfriend-type attachment. I'm trying to be completely ready to leave Indiana. Knowing me, I will find someone, and I won't want to leave. And I don't want that.

MONDELLO: Naturally, the heartthrob then comes a-calling. 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. But it also raises questions.

What was the director's responsibility, for instance, as she filmed one of her underage subjects spraying hate-crime graffiti? At what point does the filming of kids behaving immaturely become invasion of privacy, even if parents signed consent forms? And why is the most interesting student on screen, best friend to the rebel, not ready for his close-up? Reticent, not a camera-hog, he stays on the fringes of the screen, either smart enough not to crave unearned celebrity, or lucky enough not to get it.

At one point, his eyes brim with tears, and where the front-and-center kids have long since grown tiresome about this American teen — as about camera-shy Boy A, come to think of it — you can't help wanting to know more.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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