The performances are uniformly naturalistic. How did Da capture those moments of sincerity, as if his camera were invisible? Despite the intense close-ups, no one flinches or breaks character. It all feels gritty, unfiltered, and genuinely lived-in: from moments of pure hilarity (the “Jews in the Hood” bit will have you doubling over) to instances of heartbreak (a love confession will surely stir up some painful memories).
What could have been gibberish turns into shrewd analysis thanks to Da’s keen direction. “There’s women, and there’s bit*hes,” a prepubescent little punk state with great confidence. “That’s what we’re trying to get right now.” Another young man, while wooing a girl into giving him her homework, nonchalantly says: “It’s hard for me to keep up with the high school regimen.” A girl readily – almost proudly – admits that she’s not the brightest bulb and mistakes Bernie Sanders for Barney the Dinosaur. In one of the many highlights, taxonomy is confused with taxidermy.
“…the Modern Teen is captured in all their beauty…”
Jealousies, resentments, porn on cellphones, flirting in the cafeteria, bullying; ridden by angst, overpowered by hormones, petulant and oddly mature, the Modern Teen is captured in all their beauty by Da. He effortlessly portrays the dominating, conflicting emotion of high school: striving for popularity, while trying to stay true to yourself, attempting to foresee the future through a hormone-addled lens. But the filmmaker also displays the values these kids are taught at home, and how they affect their development.
We witness the inception of power dynamics that will later (d)evolve. Indeed, with the onslaught of social media, priorities have changed (earbuds and cellphones are prevalent), yet these kids cling to a semblance of reality and identity. Resembling an extended, lo-fi, Gen-Z Freaks and Geeks episode, Teenage Emotions is succinct and incredibly perceptive. Everyone should see it – kids will relate, and adults may just begin to understand them.
Teenage Emotions screened at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.
"…displays the values these kids are taught at home and how they affect their development."