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A Spoonful of Sugarman 

This Drama Queen's director helps the Hollywood product go down.

Teens say Alison and Lindsay are just - awesome.
  • Teens say Alison and Lindsay are just awesome.
So this grown man walks into another teen girl movie. He is not stunned to learn that it concerns clothes, fun, clothes, peer pressure, and clothes. The world outside can be ugly as hell, though, so he commences with the cynicism on low. This particular teen girl movie is not about bopping through Europe, the sentimentality of pop stars, or tormenting Holly Hunter. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen is ostensibly about the power of whimsy, and its delivery is suitably quirky. The grown man doesn't flinch much (until the climactic musical numbers) and feels, if not personally invested, reasonably jollified. Meanwhile, a few girls sitting nearby loudly bleat the words "awesome" and "hot," upwards of a bazillion times. Therein lies the general appraisal.

Flush with starry provenance from Mark Waters's big hit remake Freaky Friday comes sudden topliner Lindsay Lohan, essentially a teenage drama queen playing same. As a brash Big Apple girl named Mary, who wants to be called Lola, she is whisked away to the "wasteland" of New Jersey by her bohemian potter mother (Glenne Headley). Via her unlikely obsession with an unlikely rock band bearing the unlikely name of Sidarthur, Lola plots to reconnect to the glamour of New York, enlisting her earnest new best friend Ella (a terrific Alison Pill) in her life's secondary goal -- to attend the band's farewell concert and crash its after-party.

For Lola, a child of divorce, the primary objective is to be the center of attention wherever she goes, and immediately she makes a stab for the lead in her high school play, a street-revisionist take on Pygmalion/My Fair Lady titled "Eliza Rocks." This prompts extra disdain from her sleek popularity-squad adversary, Carla (Megan Fox), as both girls vie for the affections of wonderfully dotty teacher and drama instructor Miss Baggoli (Carol Kane). Their competition is funny and shot with verve, from an arcade-based dance-off down to a delightful throwaway scene in which the girls battle down the hallway to read the fresh casting announcement. These moments of sass and style make the movie fun.

In terms of perspective, however, there are problems. The project wants us to buy Lola as an ugly duckling and a preposterously busty superstar, and with its bets thus hedged, there's not enough conflict to sizzle. Slamming into our faces like some young Karen Allen clone with Luke Perry's forehead -- there's a teen market for botox -- Lohan simply lacks the homespun appeal of such previous princesses as Molly Ringwald or even Alicia Silverstone. Also, although Carla is bitchy, in a facile way, this "villainess" is more appealing than our lying, thieving, conniving heroine. Since it's Lohan's movie, we never even see Carla's audition, which feels like a cheat. Talented, direct, honest, and well-heeled, Carla has even been afforded every luxury in the good old-fashioned Hollywood way -- through nepotism. What's not to like?

It is worth noting that Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen marks a transition for superb director Sara Sugarman, known for her effervescent British features Mad Cow and the wonderful Very Annie Mary (the latter of which debuts on DVD this March). From that Mary (which is as absolutely charming as another hapless ingenue flick, Amélie) to this one, it's easy to observe the intermingling of Sugarman's great gift for whimsy with the priorities of a big studio. It's a testament to Sugarman's artistry that in spite of being tethered to screenwriter Gail Parent's adaptation of Dyan Sheldon's novel, as well as to the demands of bigwig producers, she nonetheless sustains her funky playfulness -- a hallmark of her earlier work -- throughout most of this film.

Drama Queen is glossier than a Lip-Smacker, which is the whole point -- even the hot-pink opening credits bounce like hyper children over Manhattan. But there are other problems. First off, Hollywood, when you shoot a movie in Canada, please just set the story in Canada! It's fine that lower costs, fewer drive-bys, and flagrant disregard for American jobs draw you there, but please stop calling Montreal "New Jersey" or whatever, eh? It's officially ridiculous.

The other gripes are rock-oriented. As Stu, leader of Sidarthur, Adam Garcia claims -- rather hilariously -- that his character is the "vessel" containing the essence of Bowie, Bolan, and Bono. This adds an unfortunate dimension, since he comes across onscreen as a dewy version of porn star Ron Jeremy, albeit with an unspeakably bad "Cockney" accent. And speaking of Bowie, when Lohan belts his classic "Changes" in her big revue, I just couldn't take it. A cleaning bill will be sent to Disney for the puke on my shoes.

That said, though, it is a pleasure and a delight to welcome this director and her fine inventiveness into the machine. From outrageous animations to something as simply weird as a heap of pastel garbage bags, she's not afraid to mess around with studio expectations, which is very refreshing. It may be worthwhile to warn Sugarman that those who mainline saccharin do not come down pretty, but her sweet caprices impart an agreeable buzz nonetheless.

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