All American High Revisited
All American High Revisited offers nothing exceptional in the way of cinematography, neither is its subject obviously intriguing. However, the film itself is fascinating. The documentary follows the class of 1984 at Torrance High School as they progress through their final year, told from the perspective of (and narrated by) a Finnish exchange student, Rikki Rauhala. It provides deep insight into the life of teenage Middle America as it existed in the 1980s. The choice to use the outsider, Rikki, as its narrative voice offers an appropriate lens through which the viewer can appreciate what is happening. Finally, the film returns 30 years later to see how the lives of some of the students and their outlooks have changed.
The movie is remarkable in its banality. The students it follows are privileged while not excessively wealthy, party-loving though not outrageously wild and heavily immersed in school life without being especially studious. The film-making ability of the director, Keva Rosenfeld, doesn’t stand out as brilliant, which is why it is surprising that this film – driven by its seemingly unexceptional subject – is so compelling.
All American High Revisited‘s main success is the way it uses Rikki as a tool to gain a greater understanding of the students’ culture through her developing intimacy with them. Rikki’s journey, from lonely foreign exchange student to accepted and valued member of school life, is captivating in its subtlety. She transcends her role as narrator and the viewer very easily becomes invested in the character’s intelligence, humour and overall likability.
The documentary exposes some of the absurdities of the American schooling system during that era and it is great to see Rikki’s reaction to a curriculum that includes interior decorating, surfing and SOS (survival of singles). The students are groomed for their destiny to live the American Dream, with modern lifestyle classes designed to help them identify their ideal house, car and spouse. Lifestyle education takes precedence over academia and the 18-year-old students must participate in mock wedding ceremonies, presided over by their teacher-priest dressed as a giant heart – an event they embrace with remarkably few questions. Overall, through documenting Rikki’s journey and observations, this film offers us a unique peek into a culture that, while superficially very similar to our own, is in reality completely alien.
All American High Revisited is released nationwide on 3rd July 2015.
Watch the trailer for All American High Revisited here: