For being filmed on lunch breaks, Teenage Emotions has a lot of meat for its snapshot of students.
Published on May 4, 2023
Rating 4 /5
Teenage Emotions has the look and feel of a classic Richard Linklater film. It engrains the viewer so deeply into its world of high schoolers that you must remind yourself that parts of this are scripted. The dialogue is natural in this film, composed almost entirely of teenage actors.
There is no dire situation for the ensemble of students we follow in this film. It’s just a typical day at school. One tries to take their friendship into a dance-date territory and deals with the awkwardness of being cautiously denied. Talk of the opposite sex becomes casual banter, where boys boast about who they might’ve kissed, and girls gush about boys that they find interesting. Another student grapples with their friendship. Another student struggles to make friends, finding the typical high school circles boring. A breakup leads to a quiet sob while scrolling through a phone. Only one teacher seems to have a lasting appearance in the film, and he’s mainly present to try to offer some guidance and relatability for the ambling student body.
It’s surprising how much of the dialogue resembles a real school, echoing Linklater’s Slacker as it bleeds together documentary and drama. The teenagers speak over each other with differing perspectives. There’s rarely an awkward moment where these young actors struggle to be themselves. They don’t even force the relatability. During one conversation about dates, one boy brings up how he last went out with a girl while watching Bad Boys For Life, a film in early 2020. The conversations also meander to a point where the date talk diverts to why boys love action movies.
There’s an almost effortless charm to how director Frédéric Da entrenches the audience in the most believable high school environments. He makes us feel like a fly on the wall, as though we’re waiting in the school halls and overhearing the conversations. It also helps that Frédéric Da filmed this picture entirely on iPhones, giving the film even more of an authentic nature. The teenager acts and speaks with such an innate nature. If these teens are this good now, the mind boggles at how well they could act later in life.
The entire experience makes the most significant case for minimalist cinema. Here is a film that focuses on the simple slice-of-life aspects of high school days and spins them together into an honest portrait. Even for those not in the crosshairs of Gen-Z affairs, there are plenty of familiar scenes to gravitate towards. Every adult who went to high school can find empathy within students being turned down for dates, heartbroken, or feeling like an outsider. These universal emotions are showcased as being alive and well in this generation.
For being filmed on lunch breaks, Teenage Emotions has a lot of meat for its snapshot of students. It portrays a profound look at high school filmed literally days before the Covid-19 outbreak forced all schools to shut down. This is not the only documentary to portray this last bit of pre-Covid high school life, but it presents the most identifiable and engaging portrait.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.