The trouble with reviewing a film like Disney's 2004 release "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" is that it was clearly intended for an audience of young teenage girls, and most reviewers like myself are anything but young teenage girls. It's a minor dilemma, but I have never tried to second-guess whether any particular viewers, young or old, would like anything. I can only evaluate a film based on its cinematic merit and its appeal to a general public, of which I am one. On this basis I think I can safely say that the movie might, maybe, perhaps, could possibly appeal to young teen girls but probably not to anyone older or of the opposite gender. Most assuredly, the film did not appeal to me.
The movie stars the spirited mid-teen Lindsay Lohan as a spirited mid-teen in a wholly formulaic teen comedy. You may remember Ms. Lohan from Disney's far-better "Freaky Friday," where she had Jamie Lee Curtis to carry most of the load. But here she's on her own, and, frankly, she does not yet appear up to the task.
My guess is that Disney is hoping that Ms. Lohan will prove a latter-day Haley Mills, the actress who played so many mid-teen parts in Disney movies of the sixties like "The Parent Trap," "In Search of the Castaways," "The Moonspinners," "That Darn Cat!" and so forth. The trouble is, Ms. Lohan hasn't the charisma of Ms. Mills, not in "Confessions" at any rate. This probably isn't Lohan's fault. She is obviously a talented actress, but she is given little to work with, and as a result she comes off appearing no different from any other pretty, mid-teen actress in this or any other teen film. In fact, I thought her costar, mid-teen Alison Pill, was a more interesting character. Until Ms. Lohan finds a role that taps into the unique qualities of her personality, whatever they might be, she may find herself hopelessly lost in more humdrum, dime-a-dozen affairs like "Confessions."
Anyway, Lohan plays a girl named Mary Elizabeth Cep, who is ambitious and outgoing and wants more than anything in the world to be a stage and movie star. She is given to endless flights of fancy and exaggeration, even unto changing her name to "Lola" because she thinks it fits her better. She lives in New York City, the "center of the universe" and the perfect place she believes to give her emerging career a start. Until her mother decides to pack her up and move to the suburbs of New Jersey. She's crushed and decides her life is over. She describes herself, in typically overdramatic fashion, as "a flamingo in a flock of pigeons."
But once she moves into her new house and goes to her new high school, she perks up again. She intends to get the lead in the school's new play, a contemporary update of Shaw's "Pygmalion," done to modern music and called "Eliza Rock." The movie concerns mainly her involvement in the musical and her simultaneous attempts to meet her idol, rock star Stu Wolff.
Everyone in the movie is a stereotype, so you'd better accept that at the outset. Every clichéd character you've ever met in a teen comedy you will meet here in the first twenty minutes of the show. Lola's mother (Glenne Headly), for instance, is a bohemian-type potter whom we hardly see for most of the movie. It's important in teen comedies for parents to disappear early on and ignore most everything their kids are doing. Then there's the friend Lola meets at school, Ella (Alison Pill), a shy, sweet, ultraconservative, ultra-nice girl, almost the exact opposite of Lola except in her similar devotion to singer Stu Wolff. Also at school we meet Sam (Eli Marienthal), a shy, sweet, ultra-nice, good-looking, clean-cut teen guy who falls for Lola, but for whom Lola has no time.
Of course, we must also have the requisite villain in the piece, so there's the quintessentially evil, nasty, rich, mean-spirited, snob teen girl, Carla (Megan Fox), who becomes Lola's rival on campus and in the play. Two final stereotypes: the drama teacher, Miss Baggoli (Carol Kane), is a dense, dowdy little lady who hardly knows what's going on around her; you know, like every teacher, at least in the movies; and Stu Wolff (Adam Garcia) is an English singer/poet whom Lola and Ella idolize, who is in reality as shallow and superficial as a fence post.
If this were a parody of a teen comedy, say in the manner of "Not Another Teen Movie" or a Zucker brothers or a Wayans brothers satire, it might have worked. Indeed, I was half convinced a few minutes into the plot that this was what "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" was going to be. But no. It IS just another teen movie, a wisp of vapor, complete with a fairy-tale ending. Teens deserve better than this. We all deserve better.
The movie comes in two screen formats, the original theatrical-release size, measuring an approximately 1.74:1 ratio across a standard television, and a fullscreen, pan-and-scan size. The P&S version cuts about twenty-five percent of the image off the left and/or right sides of the screen, so we'll dispense with that at the start. It's so bad, there are characters actually cut out of scenes, as in the start of chapter nine. Anyway, the widescreen version is a THX-certified, anamorphic transfer utilizing a high bit rate for maximum image quality. The results pay off. Colors are vivid and solid, if a bit dark in the face; object delineation is reasonably sharp; and grain and shimmering lines are practically nonexistent. Needless to say, one's overall impression of the video is that of a fairy tale, with colors much brighter than real life; but that's the way it was apparently intended.
It's unfortunate that the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has little else to do but immerse for an hour and a half us in the most-insipid, infantile rock music imaginable. Otherwise, it comports itself well enough, with little or no deep bass or strong dynamics but a good stereo spread and a few effective surround-sound effects, like the inevitable rain that falls in the city. The audio is also quiet and clean and renders voices realistically. It's about all we could ask of it.
As negligible as the movie is, the extras that come with it are equally slim. There is, not surprisingly, an audio commentary, this one with director Sara Sugarmann, writer Gail Parent, and producers Robert Shapiro and Jerry Leider (in the widescreen version only). It seems odd that the disc would be aimed at a young teen audience, yet there are no comments about it from any of the young teens who appeared in it. Oh, well.... Next, there's a behind-the-scenes featurette, "Confessions from the Set," which lasts a total of six minutes, just about long enough to be labeled an extended promotional for the film. Following that is a three-minute music video, "That Girl," with Lindsay Lohan; and a three-minute deleted scene, "Eliza's Fantasy." Finally, there are six Sneak Peeks at other Buena Vista releases, including a short pitch for the CD soundtrack album of this film; a THX Optimizer set of audiovisual tests; and a paltry twelve scene selections. English and French are the spoken language options, with French subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired.
One last criticism of the disc itself. It took fully nine clicks on the remote's "next" and "enter" buttons to finally get to the movie, what with Disney logos, coming attractions, menu screens, THX intros, and the like. By coincidence, the same day I watched this movie I received a press notice from Disney announcing something they're calling "Easyfind" menus that "put viewers in control of how they watch their DVD." I have no idea yet what this is all about because as of this writing it hasn't been introduced to the public, but anything is better than what Disney is doing now. We shall see.
"Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" follows the standard operating procedure for a girl's teenage comedy so strictly that it seems like it must be teasing itself. Yet there is nothing about the picture to indicate it's anything other than what it is, a perfectly bland, homogenized, milquetoast piece of inconsequential would-be comedy fluff. It may be perfect for thirteen-year-old girls whiling away a dead afternoon, but for the rest of us it may be a long haul getting through.