Teenage Emotions (2020) [Slamdance Film Festival 2021]

Director Frederic Da has a knack for adding some appeal to the mumblecore sub-genre. While I normally don’t like the narrative format, “Teenage Emotions” is a great platform for it. A mix of John Hughes and Greta Gerwig, “Teenage Emotions” works hard not to be pigeonholed. It’s a teen drama, but also a candid look at the monotony of high school. It’s a romance but also lacks a clear cut resolution of the various sub-plots. It also wants to be taken as both a narrative and a semi-documentary all at the same time.

Set during a week of an average high school, screenwriter Da focuses on a plethora of high school aged characters, all of whom are trying to navigate what’s crucial in their lives at that time. With their upcoming prom, the pressure is on for a lot of the boys to ask out the girls. Meanwhile Jaya (Jaya Harper) feels pushed in to the back by her more charismatic best friend Clementine (Clementine Warner), young engineer Jayden (Jayden Capers) finds it tough to connect with girls while dealing with misogynistic best friends, and (in one of the only complete sub-plots) a popular boy urges his introverted little brother to socialize with other kids in school.

“Teenage Emotions” opts very much for a raw honesty that’s not too common with teen drama comedies. All of the characters use their real names, there’s a lot of great back and forth between the characters that feel so ad libbed, and I was left anxious to see so much more. This is the modern generation with their own series of problems and concerns, and it’s fascinating to watch Da capture them in so many spotlights. Sometimes they’re awkward, sometimes they’re funny, and sometimes they’re silly. For example, there’s an extended awkward freestyle rap scene set in a library, and another conversation about weed smoking. Director Da is dead set on just showing kids being kids (there are many strong performances all around considering director Da is working with actual teenagers).

You could call “Teenage Emotions” an anthology as the script doesn’t particularly introduce one central character; Da seamlessly jumps back and forth between at least five sub-plots, all of which seem to settle themselves. Or, as is the natural form, continue on long after the credits have ended, since much of what we’re watching might progress in to something, or perhaps be just irrelevant the next day. “Teenage Emotions,” despite what might be a polarizing finale, is a great teen drama that works hard to think outside the box. I loved it.

 The Slamdance Film Festival is running virtually from February 12th to February 25th.