SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Frédéric Da’s Teenage Emotions may be one of the most joyous cinematic experiences I’ve had in recent memory. This lo-fi, largely improvised gem – shot by Da, a teacher, during lunch breaks at New Roads School in Santa Monica – functions both as a soulful, timely, and insightful study of Gen Z and as a testament to the power of no-budget filmmaking. In case I haven’t made myself clear: the filmmaker has caught lightning in a bottle here. There’s nary a moment when Teenage Emotions steps wrong – an achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact that it marks Da’s first feature-length film.
“Being a teenager in L.A. is fuc*in’ wild,” is the first sentence uttered before kids’ voices overlap and turn into a deafening chorus. Da’s fluid camera frames its puberty-stricken subjects in merciless, pixelated close-ups and follows a slew of them through their trials and tribulations. Everyone is equally compelling in their own unique way, but two stand out: Jaya (Jaya Harper) and Jayden (Jayden Capers).
“A young man relentlessly though futilely fights for the most popular girl in school.”
“I’m misunderstood as ‘the friend’ all the fuc*ing time,” Jaya says. Her friend Clementine’s (Clementine Warner) advice? “Make yourself attractive.” The two friends are brutally honest with each other, one freely admitting that she may be vacuous but makes up for it with sex appeal, while the other’s desperate for a boy to like her for who she really is. They judge each other in a nonjudgmental way that has to be witnessed to be truly understood.
In the meantime, Jayden feels out of touch with his little crew of sh*t-talking posers. He’s sick of them staring at scantily-clad women in the bathroom or sitting around rating females from 1 to 10. “I’m not trying to objectify women like you do every day,” he says. When he asks a girl out to prom, he gets shut down. Jayden’s face expresses so much with such subtlety, and Da knows it and wisely keeps his camera focused on him for prolonged, ecstatic stretches.
There’s a lot going on in Teenage Emotions, even though it’s barely 80 minutes long. A young man relentlessly though futilely fights for the most popular girl in school. She, in the meantime, pines for an 18-year-old, their one hook-up threatening his entire future. Another student tries to get his socially-awkward younger brother laid or at least go outside during breaks and socialize. Someone has no shame in cheating their way through life, to the literal jaw-dropping shock of their responsible classmate. Kids freestyle and talk about kissing and ponder their future. The writer/ director ties the multitude of seemingly disparate plots sublimely, especially considering that he had to rush things due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"…displays the values these kids are taught at home and how they affect their development."