February 19, 2002

Britney speared by critic


Directed by Tamra Davis

96 min., Rated PG-13

She sings! She dances! She's Britney Spears, everybody's favorite trashy-innocent teen icon. And following in the vein of many celebrities these days, she decided that being rich and famous gives her the right to genre-jump, so now she acts too! Kind of. Her new movie, Crossroads, is a thinly veiled attempt by the star to become even more of a household name, if that's possible. It's the story of three childhood friends who reunite, put their differences aside, and drive cross-country; the kind of sentimental premise that should make teenage girls scream for more and catapult Britney into the mega-icon stratosphere. But even on that level, Crossroads fails. It's not that Spears is a bad actress, per se (though it's not too hard to play a reprised version of yourself), it's the complete ludicrousness of the plot, coupled with delusions about who Spears' audience really is, that makes the movie vapid, bubblegum naïve, and ultimately pleasurable for no one.

The movie is rife, first of all, with cookie-cutter characters. The scriptwriters (who include among their number Spears herself) seem to think that we're encountering the Sweet Studious Virgin, the Bitchy Weight-Obsessed Popularity Queen, the Trailer Trash Girl, and the Mysterious Older Boy for the first time. Unfortunately, the average American six-year-old could pick out these stereotypes, and as a result, the movie is doomed to unoriginality from the first five minutes. Their only redeeming characteristic is a strong Southern upbringing — a thick drawl can really spice up a cliché, as I learned watching the film. But considering the fact that Spears was born and raised in Louisiana, this quirk is probably more a way for the movie to get down on its knees and pay homage than to make the characters fresh and interesting.

Even despite these shortcomings, the actors work with what they have and are surprisingly decent. Lucy, Kit, and Mimi, the three best friends that form the movie's centerpiece, are each played as if characters like theirs have never appeared on screen before. Naïve, I know, but they at least manage to squeeze a few moments of genuine warmth out of the mess of a plot — something that never would have happened if they felt as jaded about the film as the average viewer does.

Speaking of that plot, the less said, the better. It's a meandering mess of gushy girl moments and "self discovery," and it's as transparent as Saran Wrap. For example, popular girl Kit decides to go to L.A. with Lucy and Mimi so she can pay a surprise visit to her college boyfriend who's stopped returning her calls; and of course she's going to find him shacking up with a College Woman. Attempts made to complicate and deepen the plot just come off as incoherent or boring, like multiple mini-disasters during the trip, or the unearthed baggage each girl has to tell.

If the movie's downfalls just consisted of flat characters and an inconsequential plot, perhaps Crossroads could still squeak by as a harmless bit of teenybopper fluff, enjoyable for the 13-to-15-year-old set and thus serving its purpose. Spears, however, seems to have had a different crowd in mind when making the movie. Since she herself is 20 years old, she seems to think that her target audience should be as well, and the movie is full of moments that are a bit trashy or just a little too old for the average eighth grader. For example, Mimi is pregnant, and as the girls discover during the trip, became pregnant through date rape. The movie's portrayal of the topic becomes a bit too heavy for young viewers, especially at the end when Mimi falls down the stairs and loses her baby (Don't be mad that I gave that away, you weren't going to go see it anyway). Also, virginal Lucy is on the prowl for her first round of sex, and winds up jumping into bed with the Mysterious Boy, Ben, as soon as they get to L.A., under the premise that she's developed strong feelings for him in six days. It's all something a college student could watch and understand, but the treatment of sex might give younger girls the wrong idea. Thus, Crossroads has too many adult themes for most parents to feel comfortable letting their preteen view, and it's too cheesy and formulaic for even the most vapid college girl to enjoy.

Of course, underneath it all, it's clear that the plot and themes aren't really the point of the movie at all — Crossroads is just a chance for Britney to get more media exposure. Why else would they have music-video-length song montages throughout the movie? In perhaps the most telling scene in the film, Lucy sits near a campfire with Ben, scribbling in a notebook. "What do you write in there?" Ben asks. "Poems, mostly," Lucy replies. "Will you read me one?" Ben asks. "OK, here goes," Lucy says. "Ahem, 'I'm not a girl, but not yet a woman,'" and proceeds to read the lyrics to her hit song of the same name. The scene is probably supposed to resonate in the heart of every little not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman out there, but instead everyone in the audience was rolling in the aisles laughing. Better stick to sold-out amphitheater shows, Britney.