By Ryan Dorsey
Edited by Anthony Zangrillo
It’s hard to think of a world where the “adolescent” stage of life did not exist. Not too long ago, there was a time where children started working at twelve years old to support their families. The very word ‘Teenager’ only started around the 1950’s. Director Matt Wolf’s sharp documentary Teenage aims to bring to life an entire movement and contextualize parts of today’s youth culture that started in the not too distant past.
The strongest part of this documentary is its slick presentation. Rather than having a single narrator guide the viewer through a linear timeline, Teenage uses first person narration to tell its sprawling story. The characters read off their thoughts like journal entries, without the shackles of a linear timeline. This technique breathes life into the story being told. The presentation is wild, fast, and unpredictable, mimicking the feeling of being young and rebellious in a time when society was telling teenagers to be adults.
The visuals mix archival footage from the era with footage made to look period appropriate. From an information standpoint, it becomes a little difficult to separate what is real and fake, but the seamlessly mixed new footage helps the film nail the tone that it is attempting to establish. While the film is certainly informational, it feels like its main goal is to put the viewer in the shoes of its characters, rather than being 100% accurate.
For the most part, Wolf’s Teenage accomplishes what it sets out to do. Seeing familiar points in time like the Great Depression or World War II told from the young generation’s perspective is really powerful. Viewers can see and understand what led to the rebellious, free spirit teenager.
Overall, Wolf’s storytelling method works well, but there are some parts where the information isn’t presented clear enough. Sometimes, the film moves too fast, and it forgets to explain itself. Dates and places get thrown around, making it easy for viewers to mix up the timeline. This confusion is understandable, because the film attempts to keep a certain amount of momentum, while also recounting an eventful twenty-year period of three different countries. However, the film manages to get back on-track, when it derails too much.
At a runtime of just a little over an hour, Teenage is a must watch documentary. In a short amount of time, Matt Wolf outlines an important and sometimes overlooked international movement. Many parallels can be drawn between the teenagers from today and yesterday. In total, the film manages to tell its story without overstaying its welcome. For that, it definitely deserves a watch.