I’ve never seen a movie quite like The Myth of the American Sleepover. Actually, let me expand upon that statement. I’ve seen a lot of movies sort of like it: ensemble teen hangout comedies set entirely during one night. It is perhaps my favorite subgenre of film. But none of those I’ve ever seen feel even remotely like this. It’s a joke-free comedy that’s all hazy and wandering, filled with scenes and settings that feel like they came out of a half-waking dream. It’s a pocket symphony tone poem, David Robert Mitchell’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.
This is Mitchell’s debut film and the first of his I’ve seen. He rose to prominence for applying a similarly diffuse lens to teen horror in 2014’s It Follows, then plunged deeper into cult fandom with 2018’s divisive Under the Silver Lake. I am now very excited to see those films; Myth of the American Sleepover’s slightly disorienting texture feels perfect for an unsettling horror or crime film. In fact, I half expected the airy tone to curdle and culminate in some sort of tragedy, but it never does. It just floats.
As you might guess from the title, the movie takes place across a handful of overnight gatherings. There’s a low-key slumber party, a keg-fueled rager, a college orientation, and a surreal make-out gathering at a warehouse the feels like it emerged from the subconscious. But none of these settings have much permanent sense of space in the film. The Myth of the American Sleepover is much more about the roaming experience of its various subjects than any of the titular parties, or even the characters themselves.
There are four main characters, more or less. Maggie (Claire Sloma) is a younger high schooler looking to let loose and hook up with some older kids. Rob (Marlon Morton) spots a beautiful girl at the grocery store and spends the whole night searching for her. Claudia (Amanda Bauer) is a new girl in town who has landed popular boyfriend and gets invited to party. Lastly, Scott (Brett Jacobsen) is a nostalgic graduate in search of a pair of twins who might have had a crush on him.
The cast is almost entirely real teens and amateurs. This gives an authenticity to the teenage awkwardness and ennui. But it also means the acting sucks pretty bad. None of the actors leave much of an impression or give much interiority. They’re just pieces of the puzzle.
The script feels like a first draft, too, and there’s a wild disparity in the quality of the subplots. Rob’s search for his siren has a Homeric quality to it that best taps into the film’s dreamlike ambience. It also has the most fully-formed conclusion of the threads. On the flip side of the coin, the story about Scott searching for the twins is disastrously bad and half-baked. Mitchell probably intended it to feel uncanny and Lynchian as two people merge into one, but it completely bombs. My favorite individual scene comes from Maggie’s thread, when she dances on a pier next to a lake. It’s like a lost scene from a Godard film.
Ultimately, I liked the film for having such a unique tone and texture. Its lack of polish even adds to the charm. I would watch it again in the right mood, if I was feeling mellow and wanted to soak in some late-summer vibes. But take my thumbs-up with a grain of salt: I’m exactly the movie’s ideal audience — a hangout teen comedy die-hard who also enjoys up-their-own-ass art films.