Obviously you expect mainstream shows aimed at kids and tweens to be pretty “juvenile”, because their target audience isn’t particularly sophisticated… but I don’t think that should be used as an excuse for technically poor writing. It’s too easy to shrug and say “Oh, it’s just a kid’s show, don’t take it so seriously, LOL!”, when the fact is that grown men and women are making serious money from churning out this crap, so the very least they can do is put some actual care and attention into the work they’re doing. If not for their audience’s sake, or the parents who are providing the pocket money, then for the sake of their own integrity and dignity as artists. I mention this because the other night I subjected myself to The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003), and that damn thing didn’t make a lick of sense.
For those who don’t know, Lizzie McGuire was a Disney Channel sitcom, which ran from January 2001 to February 2004 (for a total of 65 episodes), and starred Hilary Duff as the eponymous heroine, a happy-go-lucky girl-next-door, who’s inner thoughts and feelings are illustrated via quick cutaways to an animated alter ego (also voiced by Duff). Her best friend, ‘Miranda Sanchez’, was played by Lalaine, who opted out of the final six episodes of the series, and the spin-off movie… although she did appear in Buffy around roughly the same time as one of the “potential slayers”, so maybe that has something to do with it? I certainly know which show I’d rather be on, if I were an actor!
Anyhoo, the movie begins with a rather disturbing scene involving Lizzie’s younger brother, ‘Matt’ (Jake Thomas), concealing a web-cam inside a remote control car. He sneaks the car into his sister’s bedroom, ostensibly so that he can record “embarrassing” footage of her singing into her mirror with a hairbrush, but she clearly changes her outfit several times during the title sequence montage, which suggests that he was also filming her taking her clothes off. Which is super-creepy, and also illegal. I’m amazed no one spotted that at any point during the production process. Then there’s a quick scene of Lizzie accidentally sabotaging her own junior high graduation, where she trips over the stage backdrop, and literally brings the curtain down on all her classmates! Cut to the airport, as Lizzie and her platonic-but-smitten-boy-who-is-a-friend ‘Gordo’ (Adam Lamberg) prepare to board a plane for Rome, along with a few other supporting characters from their year. Sans parents, the group is being supervised by a single grown-up (!), their future highschool principal ‘Ms. Ungermeyer’… a snotty stickler played by the very cute (and largely blameless) Alex Borstein, of Family Guy fame.
While sight-seeing in Rome, Lizzie catches the eye of an Italian teen idol named ‘Paolo Valisari’ (Yani Gellman), who apparently has nothing better to do with his afternoons than hang around local tourist attractions, hoping to be recognised by adoring fans. After following Lizzie to an ice-cream parlour, he announces that the blonde is a dead-ringer for his brunette singing partner, ‘Isabella Parigi’… and then points to a conveniently placed billboard to prove it. The revelation that he and Isabella used to date before they split over “musical differences” should have set alarm bells ringing in Lizzie’s head, but she gets swept up in the romance of it all, and agrees to sneak away from her school party to take a private tour of the city with him. She fools Ms. Ungermeyer by feigning illness, and meets up with Paolo, who gives her a little scooter ride around Rome, before playing on her sympathies by explaining that he and Isabella had been booked to perform together at a fancy awards show later that week… but she went AWOL after he suggested that they try to move their music in a more mature direction, and leave the bubblegum pop market behind. Apparently Isabella is a lip-syncing phoney, and it’s Paolo’s talent that’s gotten them this far… but he feels sorry for his ex, and would hate to see her get sued for breach of contract, when she fails to show up at the gig. He suggests that Lizzie take Isabella’s place on stage, and before you can say “Milli Vanilli”, he’s whisked her away to an empty theatre, to rehearse some fancy dance moves, and learn the subtle art of lip-syncing. Paolo helpfully suggests that her mouth movements would look more natural if she actually sang the words aloud along with the backing track. Hmmm…
While Lizzie is off playing “pop princess”, Gordo is forced to cover for her, despite his raging jealousy and sneaking suspicions that Paolo is up to no good… so when Ms. Ungermeyer insists on going up to see the girl in her sick bed, Gordo has to distract her by confessing that he has been sneaking off in her stead. The gullible guardian accepts this admission at face value, despite the fact it makes absolutely no sense, and has nothing whatsoever to do with whether Lizzie is in her room or not (and certainly wouldn’t prevent her from checking again later). Oy! Regardless, Gordo is sent off in disgrace to catch a plane home (by himself!), and while he’s waiting at the airport (by himself!), he happens to bump into the real Isabella! She’s just returned from the unspecified island where she’s been hiding out, and is confused by all the tabloid photos of her blonde doppelganger. Gordo rushes to explain the situation to her… but not before being momentarily restrained by a bizarrely dolled-up ‘Police Officer’, supposedly played by an uncredited Evangeline Lilly! Gordo and Isabella arrive at the awards ceremony just in time to catch Lizzie before she steps on to the stage, and explain that it’s actually Paolo who is the phoney! Apparently his evil plan was to mute the playback of Isabella’s part of the song, and fade up Lizzie’s real (hypothetically awful) vocals, to frame his ex as a hopeless amateur in front of the capacity crowd filling the Coliseum that night. Isabella guilts Lizzie into believing this accusation by asking who is the more trustworthy: her old pal Gordo or some pretty-boy singer she’s only known a few days? Of course, technically speaking, Gordo is simply repeating what Isabella’s told him, and he’s only known her for a couple of hours (at most), so by her own logic she should be the least credible source of all… but logic be damned!
Lizzie swiftly switches her allegiance to Team Isabella, and they decide to pull a switcheroo on Paolo, and give him a taste of his own musical medicine. As Paolo and Lizzie perform on stage, Gordo and Isabella mute his playback track, so that he’s exposed as the tone-deaf fraud he really is. Hurrah! Then Isabella struts onto the stage to officially introduce her “American friend” to the audience, so they can sing the song as a duet, using their own natural voices… even though Isabella has no idea whether Lizzie can actually sing or not. It turns out she can, of course… which means that the whole plot point about Paolo wanting to fade up her microphone was totally moot to begin with. She wouldn’t have sounded exactly like Isabella (whose vocals were apparently provided by Hilary’s sister Haylie Duff), but she would certainly have been able to carry the tune well enough to thwart his fiendish scheme! Eventually, Isabella leaves Lizzie to carry the whole performance by herself, because this is “The Lizzie McGuire Movie”, not “The Isabella Parigi Movie”, and Hilary Duff was in the process of launching her own solo pop career. I know this because there’s a featurette on the DVD all about the recording of her album… ah, the sweet smell of synergy!
Did I mention that Lizzie’s annoying family happened to be amongst the audience to witness all of this nonsense go down first hand? Well, they were, thanks to an extremely weak and tenuous plot-twist involving a sobbing Matt convincing his parents that he was missing his sister so much, they should all just fly out there to see her in Rome, rather than waiting a couple of weeks for her to come back… the ulterior motive being that he wanted to sell his embarrassing/self-incriminating video (subtly labelled “blackmail” in big black letters) to the Italian paparazzi. For no apparent reason, he immediately forgets this plan upon arrival in Italy, and instead tries to sell his video to the hotel manager, because… yeah… whatever…