Talking Movies

August 25, 2019

From the Archives: The Bratz Movie

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up a deservedly forgotten shameless live-action cash-in distinguished mostly by a nose.

‘Best Friends Forever’ Yasmin, Cloe, Jade and Sasha drift apart as soon as they start high school. A session in detention, however, sees them decide to rebuild their lost friendship by destroying the suffocating clique system imposed by student body president Meredith.

This film does not start well. The spectacle of 18 year old girls playing characters just starting High School and acting far more immature than that is a horrendous sight. Thankfully things pick up after those ghastly introductory scenes as soon as we arrive at Carry Nation High School. The school is, joyously for those who like their visual humour, run like a prison by Principal Dimly (Jon Voight). Voight is having fun wearing a false nose yet again, which is referenced in a wonderfully silly in-joke. Dimly’s daughter Meredith (Chelsea Staub) assigns all freshmen their clique, complete with seating chart… All this owes a lot to Mean Girls but Bratz doesn’t aim that high. Indeed you can’t help but suspect that the screenplay by Lizzie McGuire writer/producer Susan Estelle Jansen tones down substantially the story scripted by Adam De La Pena and David Eilenberg. Their resumes are chock full of Ali G and animated shows for grown-ups, not fare calculated to sell toys to tweenies, even if it would help parents to retain consciousness.

For those unfamiliar with Bratz there’s great comfort in how much The OC informs the dialogue. Indeed Jade (Janel Parrish) seems to be a very thinly disguised Asian version of Summer Roberts. Hardly surprising really, as Parrish appeared in The OC. The cast is chock full of Nickelodeon regulars while Skyler Shaye who plays Cloe was in Veronica Mars, from which one of the best lines of this film is stolen. There’s also hints of The OC’s Taylor Townsend about Meredith, though the writers choose to go more with Rachel McAdams’ Mean Girls queen bee persona. Such steals are actually of great service in making this film better than one would have expected. Director Sean McNamara at least partially justifies this film appearing in cinemas and not television with some big set-pieces. A beautifully choreographed food-fight sequence takes place to the strains of the Blue Danube. This film though is far too long. It is two excellent musical numbers, performed by Broadway star Chelsea Staub, that really sustain its flagging final forty minutes.

For those tired of the Barbie image of perfection, which has led to such idiocy as shoehorning Jessica Alba into an Aryan model of beauty in the Fantastic Four movies, the Bratz dolls have done the world some service in pushing beauty ideals of mixed ethnicity. Parents though should note that breaking apart a clique system seems to involve a suspiciously large amount of expensive shopping led by the fashionista Jade. Oddly enough the Bratz cartoon series in which the BFF’s are crusading student journalists is probably more empowering and definitely more succinct than the live action version.

3/5

September 7, 2018

From the Archives: The Wackness

Rooting around deep in the dustbin of the pre-Talking Movies archives uncovers the last (neglected) feel-good hit of summer 2008.

I mock Ben Kingsley with the best of them but damn it if he hasn’t succeeded in having the last laugh, again, as following his superb turn as an alcoholic hit-man in last year’s You Kill Me he’s once again godlike in a comedy-drama.

The Wackness deals with one summer in the life of Luke Shapiro, a friendless teenager whose parents are embroiled in money worries, as he frets about going to college. Luke is a small time drug dealer at his school and unrequitedly in love with the impossibly hip Stephanie. He’s also in therapy with her stepfather Dr Squires, who trades psychoanalysis for marijuana from Luke, part of his rebellion against the whole world for making him feel old.

Josh Peck as Luke holds his own against Kingsley. Who’s Josh Peck? He’s the Josh of Josh and Drake, on which he displayed an aptitude for physical comedy that rivals anyone else in the last 25 years – check out the scene where Josh and Drake attempt to get a job at a sushi restaurant and fail to keep up with the food on the conveyor belt despite their most frantic efforts… He’s almost unrecognisable here after a substantial weight loss and will surprise many by displaying considerable dramatic acting chops. It may also surprise that he’s playing a drug dealer, indeed during certain scenes this film feels like ‘Nickelodeon Gone Wild’ as Mary-Kate Olsen is frankly terrifying in a cameo role as a drugged out hippy chick.

Method Man is nicely understated in a small supporting role as Luke’s supplier Percy but you suspect his most important input was into the choice of soundtrack which is very mellow 1994 hip-hop and a joy to listen to even if you think you hate rap. Quintessentially 1994 is the hatred of the new NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his nigh on fascist crusade to clean up Times Square, which is the subject of a magnificent rant by a very stoned Dr Squires that ends in a hilarious Forrest Gump moment. Juno star Olivia Thirlby uses the part of Stephanie to get out from under the considerable shadow of Ellen Page and reveal she also can act. Stephanie is endlessly optimistic, “I see the dopeness of things and you only see the wackness” she tells Luke, but phobic of commitment despite her growing attraction to Luke.

This is a slight tale but it’s not possible to over-praise The Wackness’s gorgeous cinematography. You will not see a prettier film this year, under-lit in warm browns and oranges which create an entirely appropriate woozy feel to the action. Jonathan Levine previously directed cult favourite All the Boys Love Mandy Lane but this film deserves to be more than just a niche success, The Wackness really is the last feel-good hit of the summer.

4/5

Blog at WordPress.com.