by E. Jeanne Harnois
Friday Jul 9, 2004
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Oh, to be 14 again — not!

The latest in what seems like a never-ending stream of teenage mall movies is MGM’s “Sleepover.” The premise is simple: average, pretty girls with too much make-up and disposable income are pitted against popular, pretty girls with even more make-up and disposable income. Parents and other adult figures are cartoonish and easily fooled. Stakes are high, or at least high in the oh-my-God-did-he-notice-me?-my-life-is-over-if-he-didn’t sense.

Let’s get the mercenary stuff out of the way. Somehow the age group with the most disposable income is teenagers. That seems somehow perverse, but so do a lot of things in this pre-apocalyptic society. We are chasing after ghosts in the desert and spending billions of dollars to defend ourselves from vague threats based on undefined “chatter” while our teachers go unpaid. Random searches of knapsacks and briefcases are supposed to put our minds at ease. So, I suppose, in this upside-down world, the ones who should command Hollywood’s attention are teenagers.

This is definitely a movie where girls rule. Julie and her friends have just left eighth grade. Julie’s best friend is moving away and so she is forced to face high school alone. With this impending crisis looming, she holds a sleepover party. One of the girls she invites, Staci, one of the “cool kids,” ditches her for what she thinks is a legit invite to The High School Dance (emphasis on “the”). When Staci, in turn, gets ditched (are you still with me?) she gets her other “cool” friends together to gang up on Julie and her friends. The challenge is a scavenger hunt with the prize being lunch seats at the fountain freshman year. (Let’s just assume that they are the ones that will decide this, are there no other students in this high school?) The only problem is that one of the party rules is that Julie and her friends can’t leave the house. This leaves her older brother, a college drop-out who had advised Julie that “high school is great — stay as long as you can,” to cover for her — for cash and laundry services, of course.

As if the plot weren’t loose enough, the plot contrivances truly require a leap of faith. One of the items on the scavenger list is that one of the girls on each team gets a guy to buy her a drink at the local nightclub and get a photo for proof. Through some deft ripping and shredding, the girls convert one of Julie’s mom’s dresses into a stunning, fitted evening dress. The prearranged date is obtained through an online dating site that provides a blue-ribbon certified date in five minutes. The date turns out to be one of their eighth-grade teachers, whom they had admonished earlier for giving them the summer reading list, telling him to get a life after he confessed to reading the books on the list himself. Instead of turning them in or taking them home, he buys the drink, poses for the picture, then gets advice from the girls on meeting women. This is just one of the many implausible situations that the girls get into and barely escape. Granted, there is a fantasy element to movies, but all-in-all this seems a bit much. Oh, and throughout the evening of chases and adventures, including hiding out in a dumpster behind the nightclub, the girls’ hair, make-up, and clothes remain intact. One would think there would be some attempt at plausibility.

Of course there is also romance. Steve is the hunky man of Julie’s dreams (he’s plush, as they say). Her dream is to be eating lunch with him by the fountain in front of the high school. Steve doesn’t notice her until he sees her skateboarding down the street (in slow motion, no less). The typical woman in the red dress, teen style. He is mesmerized, looks her up, and is instantly smitten. Sigh. If it were only that easy.

Oh, and will someone please explain to me why it is less stressful and easier for a teenager to sneak into a nightclub, but to sneak into a high school dance is not only taboo but more difficult?

Despite the script, there is a great deal of sincerity and teen angst in this movie. Too bad there’s nothing behind it. But I suppose that’s what being 14 is all about. Alexa Varga, who plays Julie, does a good job expressing the earnestness and sincerity with which Julie pines for the cool lunch spot and the cool guy to go with it. If she is still making movies in ten years she will be someone to watch for.

This is a typical teen fantasy movie — outrageous situations with absolutely no consequences. Everything ties up nice and neatly with a paisley bow.

So, would I recommend you sending your 14-year-old? Buried in the vacuous dross, there are some positive messages. Good friends will see you through; treasure an older brother who helps you when you need it (even if it means you have to do his laundry for a month); appreciate the moments when you see your parents as people; and it’s probably not a good idea to get into a pizza eating contest with the family dog. But there are also some questionable judgments that while applauded in the movie should really be discouraged. Online dating when you are 14 is not advisable, no matter what the objective; a 14-year old should not have a lock on her door (just respectful family members that knock); it’s bad manners to answer the phone “speak” (what’s with this trend of one-word sentences, anyway? Who decided that adjectives and pronouns weren’t cool?); and, when a guy climbs up to your bedroom window to give you a kiss, it’s stalking, not romance.

But when it comes right down to it, what do I know? When I was 14 I read the summer reading list.

E. Jeanne Harnois, New York City-based freelance writer, can be reached at


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