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The Lizzie McGuire Movie /

Rated: PG

Starring: Hilary Duff, Adam Lamberg, Robert Carradine, Hallie Todd, Jake Thomas

Directed by: Jim Fall

Produced by: Susan Estelle Jansen, David Roessell, Stan Rogow
Written by:
Susan Estelle Jansen, Ed Decter, John J. Strauss
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures


Hilary Duff and Yanni Gellman in Disney's The Lizzie McGuire Movie
Adam Lamberg and Clayton Snyder in Disney's The Lizzie McGuire Movie
Yanni Gellman and Hilary Duff in Disney's The Lizzie McGuire Movie

     Think about your current impression of the character Lizzie McGuire. For two years, she stormed the Disney Channel with a hurricane of new episodes, introducing the fantastic Hilary Duff into both the music and movie scenes. There were, of course, those who didn’t like her show, and some who still can’t quite engage themselves in reruns of it. For awhile, I belonged to such a group. Sure, I found it occasionally entertaining and Duff to be quite lovely, but was “Lizzie McGuire” really a show that I could watch regularly? Probably not, but only because my “cool” factor (which was only imaginary) prohibited me from doing so. Since then, the show has grown on me immensely, and I’ve been tuning into it a lot on late-night Disney Channel programming (how oxymoronic is that title?), lately. I missed the mark on the show, at first, by quite a bit. But, my one-and-a-half-bucket rating of The Lizzie McGuire Movie was even more inappropriate, as I can conclude after seeing it many times, since then.

     Director Jim Fall’s attempt at adapting the everyday likes of the television series into a feature film is rather deceptive to watch. Viewers taking it at surface value, who aren’t already predisposed to the material, will likely find themselves confused and empty, come the end. But, just like with many film noir classics, The Lizzie McGuire Movie essentially requires a first look to adjust to it, and another to cherish and enjoy. The only difference between it and the other group of films I mentioned is that most will not grant it a second chance, while they’re more likely to do so with the more sophisticated-appearing films. Essentially, this is DePalma for the ‘tween set, and with multiple viewings, Fall’s vision is rather clear. The Lizzie McGuire Movie features a twist that is, in a sense, beyond its target audience, and pleasingly so. After over a year since its theatrical release, I’ve finally come to love it. At least I have reached that realization.

    In the movie, Lizzie McGuire (Duff) and her friend, Gordo (Adam Lamberg), are on summer vacation in Rome, with several students from their former Middle School Class, and their future high school principal, Miss Ungermeyer (Alex Borstein, who strangely reminds me of my eighth grade math teacher, here). Despite the tight reign that the two are under and their touring some very boring Roman landmarks, they're somehow having having a good time. Lizzie had an embarrassing accident at her Junior High graduation, accidentally pulling down the curtain overlooking the entire class and suffocating them in a sea of cloth. Videotape of the event was sold to major news studios by her brother, Matt (Jake Thomas), who always seems to be out to get her, in a loving sort of will. This trip will, hopefully, allow her to fully recover from the humiliation of the event, even though the air-headed, bubble-gum popping, popularity-infused Kate Sanders (Ashlie Brillault), is along for the ride, and keeps reminding her of it. Also traveling with the bunch is Lizzie’s eternal crush, Ethan Craft (Clayton Snyder).

     Despite her wishes for smooth-sailing, on the group’s first day touring the city, Lizzie runs into trouble, when Italian pop-star hunk Paolo Valisari (Yani Gellman) approaches her. He mistakes her for the famous Isabella Panichi, his former singing partner. But, their short visit, together, is brought to a halt when “The Ungermeyer” wants to conduct one of her famous head-checks in a gelato shop. He wants to see Lizzie again, so, in a combined effort with Gordo, she sneaks out of her hotel room and into town to meet him, the next morning. She thinks he has fallen in love with her and wants to develop a dreamy relationship, but Paolo really sees her as a business opportunity. The real Isabella supposedly left him because he wanted to be a more artistic singer, while she wanted to stay with pop tunes. Despite this, the duo is still obligated to make an appearance and a performance at the International Music Awards. Lizzie is Paolo's only hope to double for Isabella. If she does not, he will suffer a huge fine, due to a breach in contract. For the remainder of the vacation, Lizzie pretends to be sick, and sneaks away to rehearse with Paolo in the daytime. She will lip-sync at the I.M.A.’s and he will sing live (as he always supposedly does). However, the young man has an evil twist up his sleeve, and turns out to be using Lizzie to destroy Isabella’s career, instead of in efforts to live up to his contractual obligations. As frustrating as this clever, witty twist may be (without giving away too many specifics about it), I must say that, in my repeat viewings, I discovered of its profoundness. It represents an absolutely necessary turn in the plot, given the way the film is handled.

     There is contrivance in the film (no one questions Isabella’s newly acquired perfect English-speaking skills; the remote island Isabella is on is totally disconnected from real life and she learns nothing of Lizzie in the news, there; the record studio doesn’t realize that Lizzie is doubling for her look-alike, Lizzie’s parents don’t receive Miss Ungermeyer’s phone-messages about her being sick; etc.), but is it really inappropriate? In idealistic situations, imaginative events, in a sense, must follow. During the I.M.A. performance, a big confidence-affirmer is showcased, on the part of Lizzie. How likely is the event? The chances of it happening in real life to a real person are almost nonexistent, but the contrivance actually pushes the plot along, making us believe that the occurrence could actually happen, as we watch. It’s also ironic, but intended, that the song that Lizzie performs discusses dreams, when such is exactly what the audience dares to do during The Lizzie McGuire Movie, especially in this scene. If one realizes the intent of all of the motion picture's plot devices, they will be left somewhat enlightened.

     The Lizzie McGuire Movie is incredibly daring in the sense that it utilizes singing sequences as often as it does, and lets one serve as its climax, without it being a musical. I’m sure that one could accurately call that one of its sub-genres, but I do not feel as though the actual tracks in it are actually vital to its progression. The emotion and thoughts conveyed in them is what’s necessary. These could’ve been depicted in an easier, more straightforward way, but writers Susan Estelle Jansen, Ed Decter, and John J. Strauss, in cahoots with Fall, used a more ambitious and respectable strategy for the movie. Live music is so heavily influenced by physical movements that the characters truly express themselves during these sequences. They work more than any old conversation would. Lizzie even transforms, as a person, in the last one. The recent Before Sunset had an emotional, powerful final song, performed by Julie Delpy’s character, which really summed up the entire movie in a matter of minutes. The Lizzie McGuire Movie has the same kind of thing, just in the form of a pop-tune with dancing instead of acoustic, intimate performance from one person to another. The lyrics and mechanics of each piece here will please the films’ target demographics, but also enrapture most others, too. In addition to this, the music in The Lizzie McGuire Movie led into the release of Duff’s multi-platinum CD, quite nicely.

     Over the years, Duff has become a much better actress than she once was, one who charms, studies, and even touches her audiences. As fun as she was in her one-note role in Agent Cody Banks, the real turning point for her, from bubbly teenager to real actress, was this film. It’s easy to see her growth as a performer, over the years; I adored her work in the recent A Cinderella Story. She’s not as good as she was there in The Lizzie McGuire Movie, but delivers perhaps her most charming and crowd-pleasing performance, in it. The character, Lizzie McGuire, is so sweet and caring, it’s hard to deny that Duff’s work is only fitting. She creates something that many young stars cannot—sympathy. Even when her brother is secretly filming her comically doing karaoke to a song, alone in her room, during the opening scene of the movie, we feel sour about the sibling rivalry that she’s being subjected to. However, we are accept that it is only in good fun. Even those who have never watched the show, and are not attached to Lizzie, will have a bit of a soft-spot for her within the first thirty seconds of this picture. In her Roman adventure, there’s never a moment that we’re not rooting for her. Perhaps that’s why I, along with several others, was not wild about the movie the first time I watched it. We care for Lizzie, and to see her be played by Paolo like she is, in his dirty scheme (which, again, I will not entirely spoil), is enough to be temporarily consumed by hatred for him. This was, in my case, misdirected at the film, as a whole. But, it is really only a complement to Duff’s acting; it should not be looked at as a negative. My misplaced feeling was an error on the part of me, not The Lizzie McGuire Movie, itself. And anyone rational will come to the same understanding as I did, if their thinking about it extends far enough, and fully comprehends the dilemmas that the characters face (which have underlying themes in them that are instantly relatable to). Duff has crafted an entirely good character, who everyone could stand to be a bit more like. It’s hard to see her hurt, even if such is only for the purposes of moving the plot along.

     The entire picture is quite amusing, too; sometimes it is borderline hilarious. I never have found particular liking in Ethan’s general dumbness, but his dialogue in the movie is much more thoughtful. Instead of playing a stereotypical jock, Clayton Snyder simply engages himself in conversations which are full of witty observations about pseudonyms and euphemisms. Accompanying his newfound comics are those of the show, comprised of references to old episodes and witty observations of social dynamics. The Kate Sanders character is also very funny here, assuming several stereotypes about Italian boys, as she desperately wants to find one to date. Amazingly, despite her "snot-faced snot-head" kind of a personality, and meanness in the first act, she ends up defending Lizzie here, for once. It’s too bad that the show’s run ended right after the film’s release; it would’ve been very interesting to see her character, back home, and in high school. There are inferences made in The Lizzie McGuire Movie that she would turn back into the brat of a character she was before going to Rome, after spending some time with the rest of her popular crowd of idiots. They opted to take a thirty-six hour bus-ride to a water-park instead of hit the streets of “The Eternal City”, whereas she made a last minute decision to change her destination. But, Kate’s presence here is heartwarming, providing fans with a wonderful farewell.

     In the last scene of The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Gordo and Lizzie stand on the balcony that they did on their first day in Rome, bringing back memories of earlier in the film. Back then, she said “Promise me that when we’re here…we’ll find adventure.” That adventure has now, certainly, been fulfilled, and despite her being in the middle of all the chaos, Gordo’s ride has been equally as bumpy as hers. It’s their last night together in the Italian city, and they have been overwhelmed by the trip. After hesitating, and exchanging very little dialogue, Lizzie bends over, and sweetly kisses her friend, who has liked her forever. She had failed to realize this at most other times they had been together; but all of the nuttiness of the past few days has finally allowed her to get a grip on things, ironically. He acts cool, but his response, “Thanks,” feels grateful, natural, and in shock. She chuckles and says “You’re welcome.” It’s a beautiful sight to witness. Then, they decide to go back inside; Lizzie insists she “can’t afford anymore trouble” when Gordo suggests their return. Fireworks light up the screen as they leave. These could be a symbol of either the rocky road ahead for the two or the beautiful love they will share. Perhaps both. Thankfully, The Lizzie McGuire Movie concludes on this note, and doesn’t drag on unnecessarily, as it does in the alternate ending, featured on the DVD. We’ll never know what happens to Lizzie and Gordo, as they grow older, but that ambiguity will only make us want to watch this motion picture more. Their passionate, albeit short (this is the first time they’ve reciprocally expressed feelings for each other, other than friendship), kiss represents their growing amount of maturity, but this is only sparse, as their obedience to elders must follow, and they walk back inside the hotel. They had neglected any sense of order during the rest of the trip, but with their life-changing experience, they realize that it is a crucial part of growing up. Whatever the future may have in store for them, this scene leaves us with the hope of its greatness. The resumption of school will surely bring more challenges, but after this, it’s clear that they’ll be able to handle almost anything.

     The Lizzie McGuire Movie is an experience that I will remember for a very long time. I’m still in shock that I did not like it, after my first viewing of it. But, now that I can appreciate the film, and overlook whatever small and insignificant flaws it may contain, my thoughts of it are consumed by delight. In a sense, Duff quitting the show, out of the pursuit of other acting projects and a singing career, was a good decision. However, I can only hope that she, in the future, will find a role as perfect as this one. The Lizzie McGuire Movie serves as a tremendous conclusion to a wonderful show, and allows moviegoers to simply imagine what will happen to the entertaining cast of characters, in high school (and the rest of their lives, at that). As long as they come to understand the ingeniousness of the plot, girls will be enchanted by this movie, boys will be inspired by it, and adults will be insanely interested in it. I, personally, am all three.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (8.6.2004)

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