Saturday, July 22, 2006

Movie Review - "Read It And Weep"

I'm really nervous to do this review, because it seems like my blog is becoming somewhat of a shill for the Disney Network. Nevertheless, this movie was high on my anticipation list for months before it came out, due to my love of Danielle and Kay Panabaker, and anyways I'm gonna blog about what I'm interested in, which at the current time is (sadly) teen pop/movies/tv shows, etc. And it so happens that Disney has a monopoly on that market.

THE FILM: Read It and Weep
STARRING: Kay Panabaker and Danielle Panabaker
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON: The Disney Channel, July 21, 2006.
PLOT OUTLINE: Jamie Bartlett (Kay Panabaker) is basically a normal girl, with three best friends (two girls and a guy: Lindsay, Harmony, and Connor). Like the stars of most teen movies, she is continually dumped upon by her brother and her classmates. In order to cope, she keeps a journal; however, unlike other journals, it does not simply chronicle her day-to-day activities. Rather, her journal is a piece of fantasy fiction, populated by caricatures of the people she knows, and a main character named Isabella (also known as Is [Danielle Panabaker]). Is reacts to all of the people the way Jamie wishes she could, she zaps the popular girls who torture her out of existence, and dates the hottest and most popular boy in the school. Due to a series of comic mishaps, Jamie accidentally submits her journal to a class creative writing assignment. The teacher is so impressed, she gets it published in a newspaper, a publisher gets wind of it, and next thing you know it, her journals are being published as a novel. Needless to say, the novel becomes a bestseller. And what happens is what you would expect happens, she becomes consumed by fame, too busy for her friends, gets the hot guy, etc.
Throughout this whole time, she has visions of, and converses with Is. Is advises her to basically do the things that Jamie would always want to do, and advises her to always do what is best for herself. Ultimately, this gets her in a lot of trouble, as Is starts to take over her life, and turns out Is is just a selfish bitch. The scenes where Jamie and Is are talking together are really weird.
The film takes kind of a nasty twist when all the classmates find out that the characters in the book are based on them, and everybody turns on Jamie. What happens from there, I will let you watch the movie to find out, but I doubt you'll have too much trouble guessing.

AND THEY ALL LEARNED A VALUABLE LESSON: Well, Jamie is really the only one who learns a valuable lesson, that being to appreciate her friends and her situation as it is.

LET'S DISCUSS THE PANABAKERS, SHALL WE: I have been a big fan of the Panabakers for some time now; actually, I was a fan of each of them independently before I ever learned they were sisters (not twins, Danielle is older by two and a half years). I find both of the Panabakers to be really charming and cute. Danielle was the best part of the very good 2005 teen movie Sky High and Kay was excellent as Debbie Berwick in Phil of the Future. I'm happy to report both were cast perfectly in this movie. Danielle seems to really be a good actress, having appeared in a variety of roles in various teen movies as well as acclaimed HBO miniseries Empire Falls. I've been realy impressed by her performance in everything I've seen, and I believe this is the first time I've seen her play an antagonist/evil character, which she totally pulls off. Kay on the other hand really only comes in one flavor, that being ridiculous over-the-top comedy. A lot of people don't like that, and find Kay annoying, but in the right role I find her crazy facial expressions and ridiculous delivery to be very funny; Debbie Berwick and this movie were both great roles for this. I'm a little skeptical of her long run chance of success unless she can display a bit more range than she has so far, but if she can keep pulling roles like this, she'll be OK. Even though they may not be everybody's cup of tea, I found that the Panabakers were definitely the best part of this movie. So cute!

OVERALL COMMENTS: On the whole this movie was a lot darker and less cute than I expected it to be. Not that it was a really dark movie, or not a cute movie, but just that it was a lot more dark and less cute-oriented than the average Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM). The scenes that featured Jamie and Is together were of particular interest. The directing and dialogue in these scenes went to great pains to ensure that we realized that Jamie had a great deal of internal conflict over what she's doing. Whereas in the average teen film throughout the eighties and later, the main character would abandon their friends for the popular crowd at first possibility, without regard for their friends feelings, Jamie is painfully aware throughout the movie of how her actions are impacting her friend and family. She sees it herself, and has intense internal dialogue (in the form of conversations between her and Is), but yet the rush of fame, and the positive aspects of how it's impacting the family business and her new popularity...she knows it's wrong but just can't stop letting the internal Is take over. Hey, we've all been there. I thought that aspect of the movie was the most interesting part, the reflection on doing the wrong things, and becoming just the type of person we never wanted to be, but being unable to stop ourselves. Like I said, a pretty much universal human condition, I think most of us go through that at some point or another. Moreso than any other supposedly "real" high-school movie like Mean Girls or The Breakfast Club, this is the film I'd recommend any 8th/9th grader to watch to prepare yourself for high school.
A lot of teen movies have tread the ground of expressing the dangers of selling your friends and your values out for popularity. Ultimately, the main characters in those films don't really seem to have as much at stake as Jamie does. Seriously, she totally screws up her life almost irreparably, to the point where it seems like she should just move to a new city and totally start over again. I think that gives the lessons in this movie a lot more depth than they would otherwise have. Which leads us to...

THE ENDING: What a copout! I was so disappointed. It's cute enough I guess but it just wraps everything up way too patly and simply, and seems to abandon all of the previous depth and previous events just for a simple cute happy ending. She got back in everybody's good graces way too quickly. I wish that just once there would be a teen movie that expresses the truth that our actions have real long-lasting consequences, and you can't get back to being everybody's hero again by making one cute speech and doing a good deed for your friends. In fact, it was so pat that it makes me think that my brilliant analysis above attributes way more depth to the movie than the filmmakers ever intended.

THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS: Of course, the film is not perfect, and the negative aspects are so obvious and numerous I'd be remiss not to point them out. First off, other than Jamie and Is, none of the characters in the movie are even there, I never even really learned the name of the other characters in the movie because they are oh so inconsequential. Mainly though, when you are going for a bit more depth, like this movie is, you open yourself up to a deeper level of analysis (never a good thing for a Disney movie). The dialogue and storyline were very cliched, the acting wasn't anything special apart from the Panabakers, and like I said the ending sucked.

FINAL RATING: Yes, like all the best DCOM's it was cute and fun and camp and ridiculous, but it legitimately made me think too. Maybe that wasn't the intention, and the whole thing worries and frigthens me, and makes me think that maybe I watch a wee bit too many lighthearted teen films and a wee bit too few movies with actual depth, but it is what it is. And I do think this film can be enjoyed with a bit more depth than the average teen movie. 8.5/10. RECOMMENDED TO WATCH. Not going to give high recommendations; you aren't going to like this if you aren't a fan of teen movies. Makes me want to read the book it was based on.


I wanted to conclude this post with some general comments on Disney Channel Original movies. I've now done reviews of three DCOM's: Life Size, High School Musical, and this movie. All three movies were rave reviews. Thus, any reader of this blog will think that I really love all DCOM's or something. Let me assure you, this is not the case. There is a serious selection bias at work here, being that I only review the Disney Channel movies that I enjoy. Sure I could do a review that trashes the crappier ones such as Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior or Get a Clue but that seems kind of pointless. I'd say that those three that I've reviewed are definitely the three best DCOM's I've seen (and I've seen many). At least 75% of these movies are pretty much impossible to watch all the way through.
Attentive readers will note that I've given this movie an 8.5, whereas Life-Size and High School Musical both got 8's. Thus, this is my favorite DCOM of all time? Really I've decided that I underrated HSM, it deserved a 9/10. My real list of the three best DCOM's of all time, in order is: High School Musical, Read it and Weep, and Life-Size. The only three DCOM's that I would be willing to legitimately defend as good movies.

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Blogger US Outlaw Tour said...

I'm really not surprised by this review. I've always known how you felt about the young'ns.

2:44 PM  

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