Before I begin, I'd like to point out that any good critic knows that all reviews are relative. If both Men In Black II and Lawrence of Arabia manage to capture the same rating does that mean that they're exactly as good as each other? Well, no! But it does mean that MIB2 fairly got its review compared to other movies of its kind, as did L of A! That said, when my wife and I scored advanced preview tickets to The Lizzie McGuire Movie to bring my daughter to, I recognized that this would have to be compared to other movies of its kind, and not to, say, Citizen Kane! (I am not a good critic, but I shall follow the same rules!) That said, how does The Lizzie McGuire Movie rate against other movies of its kind? Quite well actually! This is a fun fairy tale that's definitely worth watching especially if you are a teen girl (or are the parent of a teen girl).
For those of you unfamiliar with Lizzie, or the actress who portrays her (Hilary Duff), I don't blame you! It's a Disney Channel sitcom for teenagers that has a lot of heart, but unless you have a kid, or your finger on the tween fashion industry, the whole phenomena might have passed you by. The television show Lizzie McGuire has been running since 2001, and features a triumvirate of Junior High Students who get into a series of Degrassi-style adventures. Most of the action revolves around Lizzie and her two best friends Miranda and Gordo, not to mention "Little Lizzie" a cartoon representation of Duff who says and does all the things Lizzie herself can't or is to afraid to do. That last addition sort of gives you insight into what Lizzie is thinking, and brings kids into the action.
Apparently it was so successful in bringing the kids into the action that Disney decided to gamble with a big screen version. I've only seen the TV show two or three times, mostly over my daughter's shoulder, so I can honestly say that you don't need to have seen the TV Show to enjoy and to root for Lizzie on the Big Screen. The story begins with Lizzie's Junior High Graduation disaster! I don't want to get into this too much, but let me say that the disaster was big enough to make it onto the international news! It's all in good fun though, and the kids loved it!
The primary plot revolves around a Pre-High School Summer trip to Rome to sight see and to study. There Lizzie is mistaken for the pop star Isabelle (also played by Duff... the second cutest teenager in the world). When Isabella's former partner Paolo (Yani Gellman, painfully unaware that the 1970s have ended) notes Lizzie's similarity to Isabella, he is determined to sweep her away on a tour of Rome, and multiple opportunities to impersonate her alter ego, with the ultimate plan being her substituting for the vanished Isabella on international television. To achieve all this, she has to fake illness to skip her new principal's own tour of the "more Historic" parts of Rome! The Fairy Tale Nature of this movie keeps this from looking like a suggestion for girls to skip school for a romantic getaway with the next euro-trash 17 year old to wear a leisure suit on television!
There are a lot of opportunities for laughs here, primarily with Lizzie's adaptation to the Socialite life while still trying to duck Principal Ungermeyer (Alex Borstein). Ungermeyer herself provides some obnoxious laughter as well (if the voice sounds familiar she was "Lois" on Fox's Family Guy). Paolo's Body Guard Sergei also supplies some laughs as he attempts to protect Lizzie and Paolo from both danger, and faculty alike. (Fans of HBO's Oz might also get an uncomfortable snicker when realizing that Sergei is played by Brendan Kelly, who portrayed sadistic skinhead Wolfgang Cutler in that prison drama.) Lizzie's animated self provides no small amount of laughter herself as she comments on the action, and involves herself in some of the Physical Comedy that most humans can't do. It's Duff herself that steals her own show as both Lizzie and Isabella. Duff, even without her animated cohort, has the physical comedy down and really knows how to deliver her lines with the right timing. She's never afraid to go slapstick, but never seems idiotic doing it. Lizzie the character is a vulnerable, relatively realistic (for a fairy tale) teenager, who really wouldn't be a bad role model for young girls in real life. She's confident, but she makes mistakes! She's pretty, but she's picked on! She is thrust into this roller-coaster celebrity ride, but she never forgets her true friends and is as loyal as they come. Parents and kids alike can't help but root for Lizzie through the end!
This isn't a perfect movie, of course. Fans of the series will notice that best friend Miranda Sanchez (LaLaine Vergas) is conspicuously missing from the script (visiting Mexico City they say). Also there is a continual thread of implausibility in this film. There are several holes in the plot that are easy to forgive knowing that this is a Fairy Tale, and should be viewed as such. None of the improbability is any worse than many of the classics like White Christmas if you view it in those terms. The suggestion of a potential romance between Lizzie and Gordo (who looks like my office mate here without the gray goatee and bad skin) just doesn't seem realistic either. But what can I say? Lizzie's a good kid.
The best way to gauge a film of this kind is by viewing the reaction of the target audience. We saw this at Downtown Disney with free passes handed out to any mom and dad who read the Orange County Register or listened to the Fish 95.9 FM, so you can guess it was packed with teens and tweens. The kids loved it! There were a few lines of "dry humor" that I doubled over at, and most of the younger ones didn't get, but for the most part the kids were clapping and laughing like they were part of the action. Even my own teenage daughter (the 1st cutest teenager in the world) who is just entering the sullen, pensively introspective years, really got into it, and rooted for Lizzie like an old friend. In spite of any implausibility of the ending, I found myself feeling really good too. Kids movie or not, I hate spoilers, so I won't ruin anything for you!
In short The Lizzie McGuire Movie is a fun movie filled with adventure, but it's utterly harmless. There's nothing really for a parent to object to (like Language, or underage experimentation). While much of it is improbable, it's a fairy tale and its all in good fun, with characters you can root for and a positive theme! Three and a half stars for The Lizzie McGuire Movie... it's not The English Patient, but it beats the heck out of There's Something About Mary!