Friday, January 09, 2004


The word overrated is popping up a lot now that the awards season is in full swing. AMERICAN SPLENDOR, LOST IN TRANSLATION, and MYSTIC RIVER are the films that seem to be bearing the most brunt of the backlash. I liked all three and wouldn't consider them overrated; however, I understand how someone seeing these films now, after months of critical praise, might find them to fall short of expectations. It's the rare film that can live up to the hype, especially at this time of year when many critics and studio marketers are kicking it into overdrive.

In preparation for compiling my Best of 2003 and associated lists, I thought I'd also find those films whose critical acceptance boggled my mind. Surprisingly, just two stood out. (I considered including RESPIRO, an Italian film that left me incredibly bored, but I couldn't generate enough bile for it.)

THIRTEEN (Catherine Hardwicke, 2003) may be one of the most ovverated films of the last few years. It currently has 96 "fresh" and 22 "rotten" reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, which translates into a fairly high 81% fresh rating. (The cream of the crop rating is an astonishingly high 89% fresh.)

This cautionary tale about a thirteen-year-old girl (Evan Rachel Wood) who rebels in ways straight out of parents' nightmares (or worse) struck me as the biggest bunch of baloney I'd come across all year. It's a film that purports to tell the truth of what life is like for today's teenagers. I think it shares more with the reactionary juvenile delinquent films of the 50s and 60s than any semblance of reality.

In all fairness, THIRTEEN likely reflects the experiences of some teenagers, although I suspect, and hope, that their number is fewer than Hardwicke would have us believe. I find it very difficult to swallow that this film accurately portrays the average teenager. Look, life isn't THE LIZZIE MCGUIRE MOVIE, but it isn't THIRTEEN either.

The filmmakers and marketing campaign trumpeted the fact that THIRTEEN'S co-writer and co-star Nikki Reed based the film on her life. The film has been getting a lot of mileage out of this tidbit, positing Reed as Everyteen. THIRTEEN strives to confirm all the worst fears and suspicions about kids these days, but does that make it more honest or true, even if it resembles one girl's story? I don't think so.

The mostly favorable reviews for CAMP (Todd Graff, 2003) also baffle me. The movie follows several teenagers at a performing arts summer camp. Teen angst drenched in Sondheim musicals, CAMP hits almost all sour notes. Cliched, wafer-thin characters and Graff's surprisingly incompetent incorporation of the performance scenes make for a highly amateurish film that pulled in 56 fresh reviews out of 81, equalling a 64% fresh rating. (The cream of the crop was even more enthusiastic with a 73% fresh rating.)

For a movie so in love with the songs and performing them, CAMP couldn't have used them more incorrectly. Most of the numbers aren't shown in their entirety, which makes no sense considering that's the main appeal of the film. The audience didn't come for the tinny dialogue and flat acting. They want to hear the teens sing. Why Graff favors the lesser than sitcom-level dramatics and acting over the musical scenes, the film's one strength, is a mystery diminished only by why the majority of critics praised it.

Keep looking for those promised reviews in addition to some of 2003's overlooked films. Time for me to endure MY BABY'S DADDY.

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