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Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen   C

Walt Disney Pictures

Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Sara Sugarman
Writer: Gail Parent (based on the novel by Dyan Sheldon)
Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Adam Garcia, Glenne Headly, Alison Pill, Eli Marienthal, Carol Kane, Megan Fox, Sheila McCarthy.

Review by Rob Vaux

And now, a brief observation of sociological demographics...

The screening room for Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen was packed with tweeners and their chaperones. There wasn't a male face among them: excitable girls, their hair in scrunchies, cracking gum and giggling incessantly about whatever it is excitable girls giggle about. Mothers sat nearby, guarding clutches of twos and threes with patient smiles on their faces. You could smell the pint-sized estrogen billowing into every corner of the theater, humming with sugar rushes and junior-high joy. And in the middle of it all sat four men -- ages 25 to 50 -- quietly discussing the A-Rod/Yankees trade and whether Miracle would have been better if it had included the gold medal match with the Finns.

Guess which four were reviewing the film.

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen has little or nothing to interest those who have passed the legal driving age. Nor should we expect it to. It knows exactly who it wants to entertain and what will make them happy. Grown-up thought processes -- especially those of aging professional snarks -- need not apply. For while cynics might note its emptiness, its homogeneity, its suspicious resemblance to dozens of other tweener movies, those of a certain age will see only energy, wish-fulfillment, and harmless good cheer. It's hard to hate a movie so frothy... even as the corporate mentality behind it grates on more world-weary nerves.

It also has a dependable trump card in star Lindsay Lohan, for whom live-action Disney films are hopefully just a first step. If Confessions indulges unduly in her diva side, she radiates enough talent and charisma to justify the attention. And "diva" is the proper term here. As New Jersey-bound teen Mary "Lola" Cep, the world spins around her pixie-like form. She has the lead in the school play (a hip-hop version of My Fair Lady), a hunky boyfriend (Eli Marienthal) to support her, a bitchy rival (Megan Fox) to vanquish, and a plucky best friend (Alison Pill) in need of a confidence boost. The trick to the film is that it realizes how wonderful her world is, and she herself doesn't. As new predicaments are dutifully trundled out -- from her move away from Manhattan to her efforts to crash a rock god's party -- she reacts with melodramatic swoons and fluttering eyelashes, while the filmmakers wink and nod at an audience who presumably knows better.

It's a modestly clever notion that Lohan and director Sara Sugarman understand -- and the marketing department instantly latches onto. Ostensibly, it all works fine. Sugarman takes a matronly co-conspirator's approach to her subject, finding the humor in Lola's lack of perspective while still remaining solidly in the girl's corner. We see just enough of the real world to put the heroine in context without losing the fairy-tale gushiness of her life, and the teenage traumas on-screen were clearly reaching the intended crowd (though the loudest laughs actually came from the mothers, who perhaps have heard Lola's long-suffering moans a few times before). Lohan holds the screen admirably, and you really get the sense that there's more than a studio cutout to the girl.

The trouble comes less in the execution than in the basis for making a film like this in the first place. As giddy as it can be, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen is still nothing more than product: mass-produced and shipped out like calculator parts. It touches each trope with depressing predictability, setting a pattern that anyone old enough to drink has seen many, many times before. Sugarman keeps the surface bubbling, but that too feels contrived: the work of Disney corporate planning rather than anything truly creative. Similarly, the film's adulation of Lohan is a little too indulgent for comfort. Flashes of starlet ego rumble ominously beneath the surface, as she engages in show-stopping dance numbers, flattering extreme close-ups, and dream sequences dressed as Holly Golightly and Marilyn Monroe. With other performers, we could just shrug and roll our eyes, but Lohan is too good an actress to waste herself on such displays. She can do so much more than ape the Olsen twins; a few more projects like this, though, and she'll be done by age 25.

Then again, those best equipped to appreciate Confessions never worry about such esoteric things. Certainly, it causes no real damage; let them enjoy the candy, some would say, and stop telling them that it will rot their teeth. But the film's essential soullessness bangs back against its cheer, reminding us of the wrinkled businessmen's hands reaching for our dollars from behind the sunny smiles. It would be so nice, just once, to see its brand of energy applied to something more substantive -- to give the tweeners a real heroine instead of just a pretty picture. The sad wisdom of age will see through Confessions in a heartbeat; those unfettered by such weight should enjoy it while they can.

Review published 02.20.2004.

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