The hormone-powered joys and pains of an all-night adolescent hangout fuel “The Myth of the American Sleepover,” a movie that tries and fails to channel the indelibly dreamy mood of Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides.” Well-intentioned but derivative and only intermittently engaging, the suburban Michigan-set indie hits at least as many false notes as true ones, and the dozen-odd young newcomers in its cast — winners of an ensemble award at SXSW — don’t always act awkward by intention. The unlikelihood of teen ticketbuyers and strong mainstream reviews could crash “Sleepover’s” shot at domestic pickup.
To his credit, first-time writer-director David Robert Mitchell possesses a connoisseur’s knowledge of youth culture cinema from “American Graffiti” and “The Breakfast Club” to “Dazed and Confused,” though his film clearly suffers by its forced approximation of these and other classics. Similarly familiar, a contrived pair of quasi-musical interludes appears tres French New Wave (and perhaps helps to explain the pic’s surprising selection in Cannes’ Critics’ Week sidebar).
Chief among the movie’s sprawl of characters is Maggie (Claire Sloma), an incoming freshman who, along with ugly duckling gal pal Beth (Annette DeNoyer), wanders away from her designated all-girl sleepover to chase more mature adventures — and older boys — on the Saturday before school starts. Another girl, ponytailed athlete Claudia (Amanda Bauer), stays too long at said slumber party; after kissing the wrong boy in the cellar of his girlfriend’s house, she has to put her track skills to work.
Teen male protags include Scott (Brett Jacobsen), a college junior with a creepy crush on the younger Abbey twins (Jade and Nikita Ramsey); and Rob (Marlon Morton), whose brief encounter with a comely blonde in a supermarket leaves him as haunted — and horny — as Richard Dreyfuss’ Curt in “Graffiti.”
Believably, every line, glance and gesture carries a sexual undercurrent as the kids follow their whims and indulge in booze, pot and cigs; unbelievably, adults are almost nowhere to be seen as the film’s series of loose vignettes travels waywardly from the public pool to the school gym and various curiously parentless homes.
Not counting an uneventful parade finale, the pic climaxes in a so-called “makeout maze,” whose shadowy contours Mitchell neglects to map. The film’s bids at lyricism, including an overweening use of slo-mo, feel unearned amid the scarcity of genuine pathos.
Production values are minimal but mostly sufficient to the task.