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Movie Review: "Sleepover"


© 2004 by Donna Schwartz Mills

Studio: MGM
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements involving teen dating, some sensuality and language.
Mom Rating: 1 out of 5
Kid Rating: 3 out of 5
Cast: Alexa Vega, Mika Boorem, Jane Lynch, Sam Huntington, Sara Paxton, Brie Larson
Writer: Elisa Bell
Director: Joe Nussbaum

Most adults remember adolescence as both an exciting and a horrific time, which is one of the reasons why so many filmmakers have scored with coming of age stories. While these movies are made with a young audience in mind, the best of them also appeal to those of us who remember the highs and lows of navigating that passageway to adulthood.

Teen movies are often adventure fantasies where there are no adults to supervise -- situations that come about because the kids in the stories deliberately (or unwittingly) break the house rules (or even the law) and disregard their own safety, usually behind the backs of their clueless parents. And while we real parents may not approve of the antics displayed by the characters in films like "American Graffiti," "Rebel Without a Cause," "Grease," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and "Clueless" (to name just a few of the good ones), we tend to look back at them with affection.

That doesn't necessarily mean we want to share these movies with our tween-age children. At least, not until they are old enough to understand that these films are no more real than the Saturday morning cartoons they watched when they were younger. And most of the films listed above were rated PG-13 or higher... and not marketed to kids as young as 7 or 8.

At the beginning of "Sleepover," slumber party hostess Julie (Alexa Vega of "Spy Kids") is dismayed to find out her mother has decided on a theme for her gathering: she's purchased ladybug paper plates and party hats, just like she did when Julie was little. When her daughter protests that she's not a baby any longer, her mom sets some ground rules for the evening's event: No boys, no leaving the house and nothing that will cause the home any structural damage.

Of course, the girls break them all, even the last one.

There's no profanity in this movie and no nudity, so the MPAA gave it a mild PG, which once again goes to show you how inadequate the system is. This is a movie where the 14-year-old heroines take part in a scavenger hunt that prompts them to risk their lives by sneaking out of a second-floor bedroom window and driving a car without a license (it's an electric car, so it's implied they don't need one.) They also manage to assault a security guard, worm their way into a nightclub and one of them sneaks into a boy's bedroom and hides in his bathroom shower, where she watches him undress. The camera pulls away at the crucial moment, so I guess that makes it OK with the ratings board.

Most annoying is the fact that there are no consequences for their inappropriate behavior. Her parents don't seem all that upset about the fact that their garden trellis was destroyed, or that the girls duped them by staying out all night. Julie's mom even rewards her at the end with a new lock for her bedroom door. (So the kid can have more privacy after breaking all the house rules? This simply does not compute!)

The heroes in "Sleepover" are portrayed as smart, nice girls who temporarily discard their moral bearings for a principle. A parent might look the other way -- perhaps -- if the kids went to such extreme lengths in the name of fighting social injustice or raising funds for charity. But the worthy cause they are fighting for is the right to a prime lunch spot at the high school.

Questionable storyline aside, there are some bright moments in this film. Vega carries her role with intelligence and charisma. Despite the unbelievability of her antics, she and the rest of the teenage cast look and sound like real kids (not Hollywood models). Jane Lynch (who was very funny in "Best of Show" and "A Mighty Wind") and Jeff Garlin ("Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Daddy Daycare"), who play her clueless parents, do a lot with a little. Steve Carell (who was in "Almight Bruce" and is currently co-starring in "Anchorman") steals every scene he is in as the hapless security guard.

And my eight-year-old daughter found this movie very entertaining, laughing delightedly at some of the silly situations the characters were in. I can only hope the laughter is the only thing she took away from it, and not the message that being cool in school is the only thing that matters.

Donna Schwartz Mills took film classes in college and spent 13 years working in the entertainment industry before "retiring" to marry a "non-pro" (Variety's term for anyone in any other business), and become a mom. Today she writes reviews of family films at her website, , your source of family friendly content solutions for websites and ezines.

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