The documentary feels like a slightly classier version of reality TV, following teens throughout their senior year, inter-spliced with confessional footage that lets us know what's on their minds. Some have criticized the film for feeling manufactured, but Burstein and the teens featured have all sworn to its authenticity. I'm willing to believe that none of the moments of the film were set up or scripted, but the presentation feels so familiar that I understand why some believe it to be. Part of this is simply the result of the Observer Effect, in that the teens say and do things they may have not done were they not being filmed, and part of it is that these teens have grown up in the era of reality TV, and thus have changed their actions accordingly. In particular, queen bee Megan seems to be auditioning for The Hills at times, while at other times you have to wonder if different supporting players didn't attach themselves to feature characters like Hannah and Jake for a shot to be on camera.
With all that said, the film still succeeds more than it fails. The candid glimpses it gives into the lives of teens can be very affecting, offering a glimpse into the pressures facing teens these days without the alarmist spin Hollywood usually puts on these things. A group of five Caucasian teens from Indiana might not be an ideal cross-section of America that could represent all of the problems facing high schoolers these days (the kids all seem to be at least middle class economically, with some being upper-middle), but their lives do have their own struggles to overcome. It's senior year for these kids, so the pressure of the next phase of their lives is at the forefront of their lives. But more than that, the film shows how entrenched the cliques and roles of high school can become, a reality I found myself relating to even though I'm a dozen years removed from their experience, and I imagine all viewers can no matter how long it has been since they roamed the halls of high school. Even if it might alarm you how much easier and instant it is to destroy a kid's place in the social hierarchy in the age of texting, email, and social networking, the basics behind it have been a part of teenage life for generations.