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Read past reviews by the Film Gang

Reviewed by Carla Freccero

I don’t really expect many KUSP listeners to see this movie, but let me entertain you by talking about it anyway.  This is the Britney Spears (and Pepsi Cola) vehicle, Crossroads, now playing at the Fox Theater, Santa Cruz Cinema 9, Scotts Valley and the Skyview Drive-In. The critics have been having a field day on this one, but I can’t help thinking that there’s a streak of the classic put-down-the-female-pop-star in their comments.  Why should people complain that the film is yet another way for Britney to make more money, or that, since she’s the Pepsi girl, that product was prominently displayed?  By the way, speaking of Pepsi, there’s a commodity in-joke in the neverending competition between the big bad colas:  the movie starts out in the Coca Cola country of Georgia, and Pepsi rules instead.  In the sneers and jeers of the critics you can hear echoes of all the anti-Madonna stuff from the eighties.  Now, of course, they’re saying Britney’s no Madonna, since Madonna proved her staying power and kept her edge.  Well, Britney is actually a better movie actress than Madonna, (except in Desperately Seeking Susan) if a bit anodyne.  She’s not as self-conscious, and if you didn’t know who she was, you wouldn’t know who she was, if you know what I mean.

In fact, if you think of this film as a musical tribute (it’s an MTV films production) to the mentor mistresses and role models for baby Britney’s career, then it’s also interesting that the movie opens with a Risky Business rip-off of Lucy (Britney, that is) lip-syncing to Madonna’s Open Your Heart. There’s also a poster of Madonna with that era’s look behind Lucy’s bed. Since that song, in its video rendition, was partly about the irony of seeming self-sacrificial by performing in a strip joint, while courting the world’s acceptance, it seems an appropriate citation for Britney to define her own similarity to and difference from Madonna. Lucy is singing in provocative—but little girl—underwear, and she is in the privacy of her chaste high school bedroom.  

The next tribute occurs when the three girls who are the road trip buddy protagonists of this tale--“trailer trash” pregnant teen Mimi (Taryn Manning, by far the best actor in this film); upper-middle class African American Kit (Zoe Saldana); and apparently motherless (like Madonna!) high school valedictorian and virgin Lucy—enter a karaoke competition in New Orleans to make some cash to fix the vintage Buick that’s taking them from Georgia to Los Angeles (I’m not even going to begin to comment on the strange but typically Hollywood class and race politics here). Lucy commands the stage in bad girl Britney clothes and performs Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock n’ Roll.”  The song toward which the movie’s climax builds will be Lucy’s own, since Ben (he-babe Anson Mount)--the nice guy who transports the jail bait across state lines—puts music to the words of a so-called poem Lucy composes.  In real life the lyrics aren’t by Britney, but they certainly are her persona:  “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.”

Sure, this is a cynical movie, a star vehicle carefully calculated to produce a fictional biography for the persona of Britney Spears—she’s at the crossroads, get it?  No more the tween star, not yet fit consumption for young adults—or even older teenagers—Britney is poised on the threshold of the persona she will next become.  At the same time, it’s a fascinating pop document about the making of girl stars.  And, surprisingly, I found it not devoid of interest on the matter of female friendship. Perhaps most interesting is the ending, where we return to the framing device of the plot:  at age 10 3 girls bury tokens of the future they wish for themselves and swear eternal friendship; at age 18, estranged, they reunite to open their buried treasure (this sets the trip in motion); and, finally, at the end of this coming-of-age story, friends again, they bury their past.  It’s sad, I thought, how quickly we acquire a past that, by the time we end our teens (and, this movie suggests, our hetero female friendships), is something in need of burial.  Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.

Copyright Carla Freccero 2002