If I were Tina Fey… or rather, if I were a pettier, parallel universe version of Tina Fey, who had too much time on her hands… I’d be rigorously exploring the feasibility of suing everyone who casually compares their crappy teen-girl comedy to the seminal Mean Girls in the hope that browsers will be stupid enough to believe the blurb. Because seriously, this has to stop. I don’t care what the estimable Mizz magazine may claim to the contrary, Sleepover (2004) is most definitely not “like Mean Girls but set over one night”. The only similarities between the two flicks are that they both centre around an ensemble of teenage girls with contrasting hair colours, both feature grown-up actors who are better known for appearing in cult single-camera sitcoms, and both end with a scene involving a toy crown. But c’mon… that’s pretty tenuous!
For those who don’t know, Sleepover stars Alexa Vega as ‘Julie Corky’, a spoiled, whiny 8th Grader, who decides to throw a slumber party for her three “best friends” (technically two friends, and an overweight girl they feel sorry for), to mark the end of their freshman year. Meanwhile, their school’s surprisingly dorky “queen bee”, ‘Staci Blake’ (Sara Paxton), gets blown off by her boyfriend for not putting out, and decides to make herself feel better by challenging Julie and her “friends” to a spontaneous scavenger hunt. Because… um… ‘kay. At stake is a prized lunchtime seat near a fountain in front of the high school, where only the “popular kids” are allowed to eat… while all the other kids are consigned to some wonky tables near the school’s dumpsters. Is that even legal? To make your pupils eat near open bins? What the hell kind of school are they running here? Why haven’t the misfits all rebelled and drowned their preppy oppressors in their precious fountain already? Gah! Anyway, our heroines sneak out of Julie’s house and set about collecting all of the items on their list, while dodging a persistent “rent-a-cop” security guard played by Steve Carell (who manages to make his dialogue sound funny, even when it isn’t, bless him).
I realise that teenagers are, by and large, quite selfish, but once again I found myself marvelling at how obnoxious and oblivious the lead characters in teen-girl comedies can be. I mean, Julie is cute as a button, lives in a gorgeous house, has a pair of loving, adorable parents, a kindly older brother, and two supportive friends… she even seems to be on pretty good terms with the most popular girl in her grade (I mean, Staci does stop to politely decline her party invitation, and explain the reason for her absence, which doesn’t exactly count as “bullying” in my book)… but still she keeps trying to convince herself (and us) that she’s some sort of downtrodden social outcast! As if. This delusional self-pity and self-absorption results in one of the most ridiculous scenes in the entire movie: Julie is trying to get into the homecoming dance to complete her quest, but she doesn’t have a ticket… so she throws herself on the mercy of the girl working the ticket table, by making a heartfelt appeal to the effect that “If I don’t get into that dance, and win this scavenger hunt, and meet the boy of my dreams, I’m going to end up a pathetic, lonely, worthless geek like you.” Ack! And, in defiance of all reason and logic, this speech actually works. On the commentary track Vega herself points out how insulting it sounds… shame no one spoke up while they were still at the scripting stage! It’s particularly painful because the self-loathing ‘Ticket Girl’ is played by Summer Glau, who had already appeared as a super-soldier in Firefly by the time this movie was released, so I was half expecting her to kick Julie’s ass for dissing her… not just smile and cheer her on!
But that isn’t even the most misguided and ill-conceived scene in the movie: One of the tasks on the scavenger list requires Julie to get her picture taken with a man she has arranged to meet at a nightclub, via an online dating site! The filmmakers go to great pains to cover their asses by calling the site she uses “DatesSafe”, slapping a big “Police Approved” badge on the front page, and having Staci declare that Julie’s date “has been verified by the site. He’s okay”… but c’mon, she’s still a thirteen year old girl hoping to trick a strange man into buying her booze by sneaking into a club wearing a low-cut red dress and too much lipstick! By a wacky (and slightly icky) co-inky-dink, the mystery man she’s supposed to be meeting turns out to be a teacher of hers… who narrowly avoids breaking the law, and endangering his entire career/kneecaps, when the bartender asks to see her ID before serving their cocktails (he had already poured them into the glasses, which just seems wasteful to me). But even after this imprudent educator learns the true identity of his “date”, the damn fool still agrees to pose for a picture in front of the bar, with his arm around her, and a (non-alcoholic) drink in her hand! Is this man insane? No, he’s just another stupid, stupid character in a stupid, stupid movie. And don’t even get me started on the “fat kids can only date other fat kids, and talk about food” bullshit. Gah!
I think the cast do the best they can with the material they’re given… Alexa Vega and Sara Paxton are as winning as ever, while Scout Taylor-Compton also impresses as Julie’s secondary friend (although her character’s resemblance to a young Willow-from-Buffy was kinda distracting). Julie’s best friend was played by Mika Boorem, who I suspect may be some sort of acting automaton, because she only seems to be able to emote when she’s speaking… when it’s not her turn to talk her face just goes blank, as if someone’s switched her off. It was a little eerie, actually. Staci’s bestie is played by Brie Larson, but sadly she doesn’t get to sing anything here. What a waste! Speaking of which, it was slightly disappointing to see Jane Lynch playing Julie’s mother… I mean, it’s good to know that Lynch can play kindly and maternal characters when she wants to, but she’s still much more fun as a raging monster.