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Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) Print E-mail
Friday, 20 February 2004
Though aimed straight at the teenage girls who were the audience for the popular novel it’s based on, “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” is likely to be accessible and amusing to any audience. Directed by Sara Sugarman, new to American movies, it’s inventive, graceful and lively, stylistically a perfect match to its young heroine, played by Lindsay Lohan.

Lohan is one of the great finds of her generation. She was on a couple of soaps, then did the entertaining remake of “The Parent Trap” for Disney. She then stepped back from acting for a few years, returning last year with her creative performance in “Freaky Friday.” She played the daughter who traded bodies with her mother, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. And she had a song at the end.

She sings in “Confessions,” too, several times, and indeed the movie teeters on the edge of being a true musical. The climax is a high school stage performance of “Eliza Rocks,” a contemporary, musical version of Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” And Lohan shines in it, just as she shines throughout.

She’s Mary Cep, who insists on being called Lola. It’s part of her grand plan of becoming an actress, or rather a star. She dresses for her daily roles (Lohan has something like 40 costume changes), she attacks each day like she has the starring part, and she’s constantly inflating everything in a grandiose manner. Stu Wolfe (Adam Garcia), leader of her favorite rock group, SidArthur, is not just an outstanding lyricist, he’s the greatest poet since Shakespeare. Lola is perfectly matched to life as a teenager in New York city.

Trouble is that her divorced mom Karen (Glenn Headly) has to move Lola and her younger twin sisters to suburban New Jersey. To the aghast Lola, this is being cast into the outer darkness. Highway warning sides advise “Abandon All Hope,” cows moo as she sees her new town.

But Lola is inexhaustibly optimistic, if inclined to extreme exaggerations. No sooner has she arrived at her new school than she meets mousy Ella (Alison Pill), also a big fan of SidArthur but, fortunately, her favorite is not Stu Wolfe. She feels sorry for Lola when she tells Ella that her father is dead, wiped out in a colorful accident that left him strewn across 9th Avenue. And 10th. Lola also meets lofty Carla (Megan Fox), always dressed in high school elegance, always accompanied by her own little similarly-dressed posse, who think everything she says is devastatingly witty. Ella has long been a target, and now Lola becomes one, too.

Lola is impressed that Carla’s father is Stu Wolfe’s lawyer, but otherwise holds her own against Carla’s endlessly catty remarks. But lines are drawn: stodgy-looking but forward-thinking drama and English teacher Miss Baggoli (Carol Kane) is going to stage a big musical version of “Pygmalion,” and both Carla and Lola are eager to get the coveted role of Eliza Doolittle. She’s helped in her goals by fellow student Sam (Eli Marienthal), always an outsider himself, but who’s attracted to Lola’s charm and energy.

To Carla’s anger and Lola’s delight, it’s Lola who lands the role. But the world comes to an end (Lola imagines a flaming meteor with “The End of the World” carved on it) when SidArthur announces they’re breaking up. They’ll have one last concert, and the world will revive if Lola and Ella can get to go, as well as to the party Stu is throwing afterward. Carla already has tickets and a party invitation, and lords it over Lola.

Our heroine, who narrates throughout, is determined to get herself and Ella into the party. But Ella has never done anything her parents didn’t want her to do; the very thought of betraying their trust nearly floors her. But she trusts Lola.

The characters are very well drawn, evidently transferred neatly in Gail Parent’s script from the novel by Dyan Sheldon. It’s almost as upbeat as its leading character, brightly-colored and very inventive. Lola occasionally has little fantasies, depicted in day-glo colors on imaginative backgrounds. She even pictures herself as Marilyn Monroe in her “Seven Year Itch” dress, dancing with Stu to “I Want to Be Loved by You.”

Lola is every bit the drama queen—her mother calls her one just after the (dancing pink) credits end. And she does proceed through life with every event taking on enormous proportions, as befits the star she’s sure she’s going to be. She gradually learns that this will take more than just envisioning the results, it will also take hard work.

The real surprise in the movie is how Ella’s character develops. At first, she’s content to be Lola’s sidekick; she’s a little worried that her stuffy mother doesn’t like Lola’s jeans-wearing mom, but she’s not willing to end her friendship with Lola. Ella grows as a character, realistically and ingratiatingly, until she can stand up not just to her parents, but to Lola as well. She changes from a sidekick to a friend, and this is a transformation rare in any kind of story.

Sara Sugarman was herself a teenage actress back in England (she’s from Wales), which helps explain her evidently excellent rapport with her young cast. The movie is bright and fresh, almost as inventive as “A Hard Day’s Night” was way back then. The only flaw, other than overlength, is that the structure of the scenes is a bit off. It doesn’t build smoothly, and some scenes are not well-paced in terms of their placement and length. This tends to make viewers feel a little impatient, scene by scene, while still being pleased with the movie overall.

The supporting cast is excellent. When Lola and Ella finally meet Stu, he’s drunkenly fallen into a pile of garbage, and they wind up at a police station with him. These scenes are written with great imagination: the girls have no problem recognizing that Stu is a drunk, while still regarding him as a genius. Reality and illusion don’t clash here–they join hands in a manner I’ve never seen before. It’s genuinely surprising.

Adam Garcia is excellent as Wolfe, whom we realize is basically a nice guy, but, hey, he IS a rock star, so it’s not surprising he tends to go to extremes. There isn’t the slightest hint of a romance between him and Lola, but they do end up respecting each other. (And Stu ends up friends with Lola’s father, who isn’t dead, and who looks rather like Stu himself.) This approach is so unusual that it’s downright bracing: it’s a brightly-colored comedy, but essentially realistic about its characters.

Among the supporting players, a nearly-unrecognizable Glenne Headly is fine as Lola’s sculptor mother, and Carol Kane is sublime as the incredible Miss Baggoli. Her hair is in tight little curls and her face is also tight. But her ass isn’t. She may be full of old-school (literally) mannerisms and dress like Miss Grundy from Archie comics, but she’s open to new ideas, she likes her kids and she’s devoted to her musical.

The climax is a kind of montage of “Eliza Rocks,” which looks exactly like a well-staged musical presented by a big high school. It’s creative—Henry Higgins is black—and lively, almost but not quite professionally polished. (I liked the big head of Shaw that glides by a one point.) There’s a lot of lively dancing, and Lohan is simply terrific in her musical numbers. There’s also a great use of surround sound here, with crowd noises whispering from the back and side speakers.

If the movie had been pruned just a shade more, if the emphasis on scenes and their placement had been tightened up a little, “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” would have been terrific. Instead, it’s merely very good, one of the best teen movies in years. And there’s not a single fart joke in it.

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