Disney // 2004 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees (Retired) // August 2nd, 2004
"I am a flamingo in a flock of pigeons!" -- Lola/Mary (Lindsey Lohan)
Dyan Sheldon's novel about a transplanted teenager with a vivid fantasy life becomes a splashy, music-filled Disney film starring Lindsey Lohan, who charmed critics by holding her own opposite film veteran Jamie Lee Curtis in the remake of Freaky Friday. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen is a fun, engaging film, and although it follows some predictable story conventions, it does so with quirkiness and wit -- which, frankly, I didn't expect to see in a live-action Disney film.
Mary Cep's life is ending! She cannot go on! At least, that's how she feels when her mother (Glenne Headly, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) decides to move Mary (Lohan) and her younger sisters out of New York and into -- gasp! -- New Jersey. What's an aspiring actress to do when dragged away from all that gives her life meaning? Well...she can adopt a new identity. Now calling herself Lola, our heroine imagines a dramatic new life story for herself and wows her new friend, the insecure Ella (Alison Pill), with her tales of romance and tragedy.
At first it seems that Lola will be able to pursue her ambitions, even in the cultural wasteland of New Jersey. She even wins a role in the school's musical version of Pygmalion. But then the unthinkable happens. Lola has long worshipped at the shrine of rock god Stu Wolfe (Adam Garcia, Coyote Ugly) and his group Sidarthur. When Sidarthur breaks up, she and Ella know the only thing that will console them for the tragedy is attending the group's farewell concert -- especially since bitchy Carla Santini (Megan Fox), the high school's reigning queen of cool, has flaunted her own tickets before Lola. Unfortunately, circumstances keep throwing obstacles in the way. Will Lola and Ella be able to get to the concert, wangle invitations to Stu's party afterward, and face down Carla? Lola's persistence and optimism go a long way toward their goals -- but once the school finds out how much of her persona is a fiction, she has even more hurdles to face.
I missed Lindsey Lohan's performance in Freaky Friday, for which she garnered such glowing reviews, but now that I've seen her in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, I can understand what the fuss was about. Lohan brings energy, intelligence, and bright-eyed charisma to the screen. In Lola she creates a character who is warm and spunky without ever being cloying. Sometimes she can be arrogant or pigheaded, but we see in her someone we know and love -- perhaps our courageous best friend, who led us to take risks we otherwise wouldn't have dared to, or perhaps our younger self, filled with optimism and conviction. Lohan's performance sparkles, and it drives the film from start to finish.
That being said, Gail Parent's screenplay and Sara Sugarman's direction must also be singled out. The fresh, funny script and Sugarman's lively, quirky direction make Confessions stand out. They bring Lola's fantasy world to life in whimsically visualized scenarios teeming with bubblegum-bright imagery, so that at its best the film attains a hyperreal state, a buoyant liftoff from mundane reality into the often zany world of Lola's imagination. It's a delightful portrayal of the transformative power of imagination and of storytelling, similar in theme (though markedly different in execution) to the storytelling sequences in Alfonso Cuarón's A Little Princess.
In part because of the prevalence of these scenes early in the film, and in part because the pace starts to lag after the halfway mark, the first half of this film seemed the strongest to me. The second act became a succession of such unlikely events that I began to roll my eyes in exasperation -- but it turned out that the film was ahead of me: The very unlikelihood of Lola and Ella's experiences in New York was crucial to the third act of the film, in which Lola has to face up to the consequences of her previous flights of fantasy. This development seemed a bit too blatantly message-driven for my taste; perhaps I just identified with Lola too strongly as a fellow dreamer, but I really didn't see that she deserved to be treated like the boy who cried wolf. Our heroine even has a speech that begins "Here's what I learned...," which made me groan. And the film then allows her to have her cake and eat it too: After Lola learns that it's more important to know that she truly did have the experiences she claims to have had than to impress others with those experiences, she is then publicly vindicated.
However, on a second viewing, I felt that the apparently contradictory impulses fit together better. In the end, Lola does prove that dreaming big, and pursuing those dreams with tenacity, can have wonderful results; the danger seems to be in living in one's fantasy world to the point of forgetting one's responsibilities -- to the truth, to one's friends, and, here, to one's castmates. I think there are still some contradictions rattling around in the last act of the film (especially in the lyrics of "That Girl," the song Lola performs as the finale of the school play), but overall I think the message for young women is worthwhile, if heavy-handed. I did appreciate the more subtle development of the plot thread in which Lola learns that reality sometimes won't live up to her fantasies. In that sense the film depicts her coming of age, but the bitterness of her newfound knowledge is tempered by an affirmation of the strength of her own determination and idealism: Her idol may not be all she expected, but she can actually exert a positive influence on him. At this point, I admit, I was torn between skepticism and approval, but this is a Disney movie after all, and I suppose it would be churlish of me to resist its charm. It may not be entirely true to real life as we know it, but it's true to what we wish were real.
The film does wisely refrain from becoming sugary or mawkish, at least, and the strong array of supporting characters is another substantial point in its favor. It's a pleasant surprise to see that our colorful heroine has parents who are worthy of her: That is, they are interesting people in their own right, not just because of their involvement in Lola's doings. Glenne Headly is a delight as Lola's mother, an artistic soul who nevertheless manages to be a bit more grounded than her daughter, and Tom McCamus as Lola's father manages to be low-key and relaxed even as he keeps a watchful eye on his daughter. He, too, shows a flair for the dramatic and the artistic, and it's nice to see this connection between parents and child. Always-wacky Carol Kane turns in a great comic performance as dowdy drama teacher Miss Baggoli. As Ella, Lola's best friend and foil, Alison Pill creates a nice arc over the film as she gains in confidence and learns to enjoy herself. The requisite love interest, Sam, is agreeably embodied by Eli Marienthal, who possesses a casual boy-next-door appeal that contrasts effectively with the shaggy bohemian allure of Stu Wolf (a deftly shaded comic performance by Adam Garcia). Although the film may belong to Lohan, the script and director generously share the focus, so each of these characters gets a chance to shine.
As with all Disney films, the package is impeccable, from the candy-colored whimsy of the production design to the jaunty musical score by Mark Mothersbaugh (formerly of Devo, for those of you who remember the '80s). Likewise, the audiovisual quality of the transfer is superb. Both video and audio are bold, clear, and without visible defect. The music and dialogue are in perfect balance in the Dolby 5.1 Surround. I'm pleased to note that the disc offers both widescreen (original aspect ratio) and fullscreen versions; I'm enough of a realist to know that parents often purchase pan-and-scan for their kids when it's offered, but at least this way the kids won't be stuck without the option of viewing the film in its complete form if they should see the light.
There's a nice little nosegay of extras here: a music video for "That Girl" performed by Lindsey Lohan, with characteristic energy and charm; a deleted scene consisting of a wonderfully bizarre fantasy sequence in which Lola imagines herself and Stu Wolfe appearing in Pygmalion; and a brief behind-the-scenes featurette that captures the sense of fun and camaraderie that seems to have characterized the production (as well as the absolutely astonishing hairstyle sported by Sugarman). The DVD-ROM feature allows customers to register their DVD, which offers the substantial perk of a free replacement disc in case of damage or theft.
The commentary track, in which Sugarman and Parent are joined by producers Robert Shapiro and Jerry Leider, is high-spirited to the point of being giddy. In some respects it's geared toward the younger movie viewers: The commentators stop to define filmmaking terminology and point out instances of moviemaking sleight-of-hand, and Leider always quizzes Welsh-born Sugarman when she uses a British expression (although this seems like a way to tease her as much as an effort to clarify unfamiliar terms for American youngsters). But the commentators seem to be having a lot of fun, and with Leider as self-appointed jokester, the commentary is always enjoyable even when it's on the silly side.
Okay, I can't hold it in any more. I'm going to sound like my mother, or even my grandmother, but I have to say it: Lola wears some of the most atrocious outfits I've ever seen. True, it's fun to see her borrowing looks as she takes on different personas from Barbarella to Gandhi (yes, you read that right), but in her own drama-queen identity the child has no taste. When she doesn't dress tacky, she dresses slutty. During her night in New York she wears a skin-tight sequined microskirt that made me wonder why the cops didn't arrest her for soliciting. And her low-rise satin pants in the big musical finale must have sent the rating zooming from G to PG in one fell swoop; they're practically indecent. Not that the other teenagers are much better; the only one who looked normal to me was Ella, whom Carla dismisses haughtily as dressing "like a politician's wife."
Since I'm already showing my age, I may as well reveal myself as a complete curmudgeon and grumble about that movie standby: the high school play that could only exist in movieland. The professional-quality dancing, the multitude of quick and efficient set changes, the astonishing sophistication of the props and costumes, the dramatic lighting effects -- no high school on earth could put on a show like this; it looks more like the Oscars with a high school theme. The budget for such a production would probably be more than the combined total of yearly salaries for the entire New Jersey school system. Of course, we could talk ourselves into thinking that this is the play as seen through Lola's eyes and that in real life the student orchestra is actually sawing away on secondhand violins instead of tapping at rows of shiny new laptops. But who am I kidding? The main reason most of us go to the movies is because we, like Lola, prefer the glamour of fantasy to humdrum reality -- at least for ninety minutes or so. Lola gets the setting for her talents that we want her to have, after all. I guess I shouldn't begrudge Lola -- or moviegoers -- a little bit of drama.
Confessions mingles its escapism with some genuine insight. Sure, it's a bit heavy on the moral lessons, but it's also surprising, funny, and terrific eye candy, and the performances by Carol Kane, Adam Garcia, and especially Lindsey Lohan make it special. If you can find it in yourself to cast an indulgent eye on its shortcomings -- the second-act lag, the didacticism, the credulity-straining plot developments -- you can look forward to ninety minutes of fun to share with your 'tween daughter or niece.
The defendant has confessed to the charge of being a drama queen, but she has also learned the error of her ways and promises to be a model citizen from this point on. The court declares her not guilty...unless she starts wearing those tarty low-rise pants again, in which case it will come down on her like a ton of bricks.
Review content copyright © 2004 Amanda DeWees; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scene
* Lindsey Lohan Music Video
* "Confessions from the Set" Featurette
* Commentary with Director Sara Sugarman, Writer Gail Parent, and Producers Robert Shapiro and Jerry Leider
* Official Site