“The Lizzie McGuire Movie” Reviewed (Part 1)
Look at the poster for this movie:
This is a poster that says “You like this girl! Who cares what the plot of this movie is!” And the answer is: no one who worked on it.
The Lizzie McGuire Movie pretty blatantly exists to make tweens fork over their cash and get more invested in Hilary Duff’s singing career. We won’t spend any time debating whether Hilary Duff is “good” at singing, for the simple reason that no one at Disney spent any time debating that either. Do you know why Hilary Duff has a singing career? Because she was invited to a Radio Disney concert and asked herself, “Why am I backstage when I should be onstage?” So she told her mom – who was in charge of her career and is by all accounts an extremely pushy woman – that she thought it’d pretty fun to try what all the professional singers who had trained their whole lives for that opportunity were doing, and they found her a manager right there backstage, even though Hilary was “never that into music.” That’s it. And then we got “I Can’t Wait” and a Christmas album and this movie.
This. Movie. Could I tackle this in one post? Yes, easily, because this movie is fluffy and filled with time-wasting montages and very little plot. Will I tackle in it one post? No, because there is definitely enough wrong with this delightfully stupid shitshow to warrant some deep investigation. Let’s! Get! Into it!
You will recall that the series ended (in the actual finale, not the aired-two-years-later-non-finale-final-episode) with Lizzie saying goodbye to middle school and kissing Gordo on the cheek for writing a moderately nice note in her yearbook. It was a bad finale, and it didn’t tie up much, because it absolutely ignored the groundwork the show had been laying for some meaningful resolution to the Lizzie/Gordo tension that had existed in some episodes but not even that many. Well, get ready for all of that badly laid groundwork to get re-retconned! Also forget literally everything you know about the series! NoTHiNg mAtTeRS
The movie was written by Susan Estelle Jansen, the producer of the series, with two dudes who had never written for the show. It was directed by someone who had never been involved with the show, or with much else, and who had no talent for directing. The cinematography is bad. Half of the characters are missing. It’s a bumpy ride.
This movie starts with ominous music and flashy action flick editing to make it seem like it’s going to be an intense spy caper. That’s a setup for fuckin’ Matt (sadly not among the characters cut from the film) to put a video camera on an RC car to roll into Lizzie’s room to spy on her. “Some say juvenile – I say genius!” Matt says. That’s the first line of the film and it pretty much sums up the level of work we’re gonna get. It’s not a pun, or any clever reference or joke. It barely makes sense. Almost every single line is gonna be that bad.
When his car rams against Lizzie’s door, she yells, “Leave me ALONE! Matt, I’m getting ready for graduation!” Oh yeah, lots of lines are going to be blatant, inelegantly forced exposition, too. She throws open the door, and we get our first glimpse of our protagonist, the girl we’re here to root for, curling her lip and screaming, “Say GOODBYE to your little toy!!” This is a good introduction to Lizzie. It’s accurate. I support it. It’s crazy how much this actual opening is basically just this Vine:
Some notes so far, 20 seconds into the movie: everything in the world is already off. The actors are way older than they were during the series, the sets are clearly slightly wrong recreations of the ones used for the show and the camerawork is wildly different than what we’re used to. The zany editing of the series is completely gone. It’s clearly shot on digital, and boy is it butt-ugly. It’s maybe the most aggressively ugly cinematography I’ve ever seen. Everything looks very cold and slightly grainy and just horrendously unattractive.
The opening credits roll in every early-aughts font imaginable as Lizzie picks out an outfit for graduation, which you’d think she would have decided in advance. Matt continues piloting the RC car around her room, filming her and watching the footage live and cackling, even though she’s getting dressed. Seriously, this scene consists of shots of Matt cackling, then cuts to Lizzie in new outfits, and back and forth. He’s filming his sister taking her clothes off and watching it live?!
He’s supposedly laughing because Lizzie is dancing and lip-syncing while she’s getting ready, although she’s not doing any of that badly so it’s not embarrassing at all. This scene is set to a Y2k cover of “The Tide is High.” You know how kid’s movies love pop covers of old songs that are vaguely related to the plot, like Shrek having a Smash Mouth cover of “I’m a Believer” or Cars using a John Mayer cover of “Route 66”? This is like that, except it has no relevance to the plot. They should have had Atomic Kitten cover “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” or something.
Adding to the incompetence at play here, this scene is not shot particularly well. I don’t know why they didn’t just get a music video director to tackle this entire film. It’s basically one long music video anyway, and music video directors have directed feature films before. At the end of the scene, they start mixing Hilary Duff’s actual vocals up so she’s actually singing along, just to tell the audience, “Hey! Hilary Duff sings now, remember? She’s soooo good at it!” You can tell that’s the intention because it directly counteracts the actual plot of the movie. Anyway, then Lizzie falls because she’s Lizzie.
In a gymnasium that is noticeably different from the one used in the series, Sam quotes Shakespeare to inspire Lizzie because the writers really didn’t bother to research Sam’s character at all. To be fair, he doesn’t really have one, but it’s still jarring, especially when Cartoon Lizzie is all “Ugh, bet my dad is gonna quote Shakespeare like ALWAYS!!!!” like she’s constantly bombarded with highbrow references from a man who works with Aaron Carter. Jo, who’s in this film for the sole purpose of being an irrational mom, says she can’t believe that Lizzie is all grown up and graduating and also about to go to Rome for two weeks. Uh, I also can’t believe that last part! Who sends a bunch of middle school graduates to Rome for two weeks? To be fair, it’s probably because they all look old enough to drive.
Poor Adam Lamberg was 19 years old here. Lizzie asks Gordo to tell her how she looks, since Miranda is in Mexico City. That’s the only line we get about Miranda. The fact that Miranda isn’t in this is an injustice, and they only devote one line to her entire existence.
“Oh. My. God,” says Kate, who sadly was not cut of the movie even though fucking Miranda was. “Only you could think you could hide that powder blue, puffy-sleeved, it’s-kind-of-a-peasant-dress-but-it’s-kind-of-a-baggy-disaster-of-questionable-fiber-content that you wore to the spring dance. Lizzie McGuire, you are an outfit repeater!” Damn, son! That’s better bullying than Kate did the entire series!!!! Ashlie Brillault almost delivered the line passably, too!
“We used to be best friends,” pouts Lizzie, for the sake of anyone watching the movie who didn’t watch the series. “Yeah, but that was before she became popular,” Gordo replies, expositionally.
Hey, remember Mr. Escobar, the probably-homosexual theatre teacher? He was in a handful of episodes in the first season and never seen since? Anyway, he’s here now because I guess the casting director couldn’t get Mr. Dig. He tells Lizzie that she has to deliver the graduation speech because class president Margaret Chan, a person we’ve never heard of, is sick, so Lizzie has to do it because she’s the secretary-treasurer, a position we’ve never seen her hold and which doesn’t sound real. It is truly insulting how much noncanonical bullshit they’re just throwing into this script, but we’ll disregard that for a moment so we can appreciate the IMDb fun fact about Mr. Escobar’s line here:
Hilarious insider info, IMDb!
Lizzie is a bumbling awkward mess when delivering the speech she was asked to deliver for extremely contrived reasons with no prior warning. She really shouldn’t be, since she’s spoken passionately in front of crowds for reasons as varied as defending her love of Clover and Daisy to actually running for class president (before Tudgeman won the office and she gave up on politics and didn’t express an interest in becoming “secretary-treasurer.”) Kate and some sidekick who is NOT Claire (why!!! where is Davida Williams!!) bitch about her and Gordo mouths that she should get a drink of water instead of mouthing anything to actually help her deliver the speech. His advice is just an extremely contrived reason to get Lizzie to leave the stage so she can trip and pull down the entire curtain.
It’s very stupid, but in this screenshot you can see one of the few good jokes in the movie. Astonishingly, it’s a visual gag, which I wouldn’t think this movie would have the subtlety to attempt; it’s the giant portrait of Margaret Chan that is nonsensically placed onstage like she’s a motivational speaker or dead. It says, “CLASS PRESIDENT. BEST WE EVER HAD” on it, which is funnier than anything else in the entire movie, which prefers humor like this:
Matt films the whole debacle because I guess someone on the writing team was like “Wait, the Gordo kid wants to be a filmmaker? Well, who cares, he doesn’t need character development. He’s the love interest guy. Give the camera to the brother. Mark, or whatever. When does this check clear?”
Smash cut to the airport, where Lizzie is complaining about how embarrassing graduation was and how someone (hint: Matt!! it was Matt!!) sent a tape of her fuckup into Good Morning America. Wow, you used to really have to work to make something go viral. Alex Borstein, who I feel like everyone should know from MADtv but who I guess everyone actually knows as Lois Griffin, shows up because she’s in this. She yells a lot and that’s her character’s whole thing. Gordo tells Matt, for exposition’s sake, that her name is Miss Ungermeyer and she’ll be their high school principal. This is an incoming freshman trip to Rome that the high school organizes? For what purpose? I always thought this trip was a graduation trip sponsored by their middle school! Weirdly, Miss Ungermeyer makes a speech saying that all incoming freshmen had a choice between a trip to the waterpark or a 2-week trip to Rome and says that all the kids who chose the waterpark are idiots. Yeah, or poor, maybe. She even says that her group chose the Rome trip because they aren’t “mouth-breathing trailer trash,” which is just straight-up legitimately classist.
Gordo tries to suck up to Miss Ungermeyer and she calls him a brown-noser. I think Hilary Duff got some direction to be secretly into Gordo, because she’s moony-eyed over him a lot of the time for no reason. It happens here, with her staring longingly at him while he sucks up to Miss Ungermeyer, and it happened when she breathlessly, almost flirtily asked him if she looked okay at graduation. (His reply was to snap at her that yeah, her graduation robe looked waaaaaaay cooler than all the other identical robes, because Gordo’s gonna Gord.)
Quick sidenote: look at this fuckin shot. Garbage. I could have shot this on Matt’s handicam.
Another quick sidenote: they toned down a lot of the random funky elements from the show, and I’m sad to say that Jo’s weird hair was a casualty. She just has her hair in not particularly flattering curls here. Lizzie’s clothes are generally pretty tame, too. I’m going off on so many sidenotes because literally everything about this movie is wrong or off in some way.
Lizzie celebrates the fact that Kate went to the water park instead of Rome, which doesn’t make any sense because Kate is the richest kid in school, not like the human garbage whose families couldn’t drop thousands on a two-week trip to Europe. Lizzie’s complaint is a setup for Kate to show up brandishing a ticket with the zinger, “How many Lizzies does it take to screw in a lightbulb? I don’t know, but it only takes one to screw up a graduation!” The upgrade to Kate’s bullying is ASTONISHING. I don’t know why she’s dressed like Jackie O. for a 14-hour flight, but that’s an upgrade to her normal wardrobe, too.
The trip takes off on a LUFTHANSA flight, the name of which is displayed very prominently because Lufthansa very obviously paid for some promotion in the movie. We get a montage of Lizzie and Gordo goofing off together that’s 4 million times cuter than anything that ever happened between them in the series. I really don’t know why they didn’t have this dynamic on the show, and I also don’t fully understand why they have it here because it undermines a lot of the upcoming plot. The montage ends with that thing that always happens on TV and in movies where the girl the guy likes falls asleep on his shoulder and he smiles at her and it’s supposed to be cute but also sad because she has no idea she’s getting his hopes up even though in real life girls usually have about ten million red flags popping up every time one of their guy friends decides he’s into them and so tend to not sleep on their shoulders. This would honestly be cuter if they both fell asleep and both flopped over onto each other’s shoulders because it’d emphasize how comfortable they are together. They’ve known each other since they were born! Instead it’s a lame cliche to show that Gordo likes Lizzie but she’s just too dumb to tell.
Then their (Lufthansa) flight lands and we get another montage, this time of Lizzie and Gordo looking out the window and pointing at things. It’s mostly just a lot of close-ups of Hilary Duff’s face, as if to say, “You like this girl! Who cares how much time we’re squandering on montages!”
While that nothing is happening, let’s discuss a weird fact about this movie. These kids lived in these characters for two years, and yet their performances are all completely different here than the ones we got on the series. Adam Lamberg seems to be trying way harder, and not in a good way, as if he had to psyche himself up to play a 14-year-old again and couldn’t quite manage to make his enthusiasm seem genuine. He delivers every line like he’s providing voiceover for a movie about a talking cocker spaniel puppy. And Hilary Duff is in full ingenue mode. It’s not quite the same as her super-sweet pivot that she threw into a lot of season 2. It’s more like her putting on a movie-star performance, presumably one she’d honed on her other projects by this point, and it’s just weirdly not quite Lizzie. I think the difference is probably that she was older and cooler and more confident in real life. Some of the scrappy loveable earnestness is gone.
The group gets to the hotel and Gordo is assigned to room with Ethan and Lizzie is assigned to room with Kate. That’s because no other named characters from the series are in the movie. No Tudgeman. No Claire. No Veruca. No Corey the Grubby Gulch popcorn boy. We’re supposed to feel bad for Lizzie that she has Kate as a roomie, and that’s established because Kate takes the bed by the window. The nerve!! Jk, I have no idea why that’s supposed to be egregious, but Cartoon Lizzie screams about it like it’s a war crime. For comparison’s sake, I went on a class trip in high school and my assigned roommate yanked out my straightener’s cord so I couldn’t straighten my hair, only she could, because there was only one outlet, and then my hair was half-curly, half-straight that day, and then she made another friend on the trip and asked the chaperones if I could be moved to another room because she just liked that girl better than me.
Gordo barges in to yell, too energetically, “Come on!!!!!” and drag her up to the roof to show her the view. It’s super messy, because no one would do any of that like that – they’d say “Hey, I have something to show you!” or anything else that didn’t make it seem like the building was on fire and they had to evacuate – but it’s a setup for an even clunkier bit, where Lizzie dramatically says, “Promise me that when we’re here, we’ll have adventures. This is our chance to start over. Do anything we want to do!” Bitch, study abroad and make those promises. Take a gap year and go backpacking before college. Hell, resolve to start over in high school. But right now you’re going to walk around on the designated tour stops with your group and eat some gelato, and you should be excited about that, because it’s all legitimately very cool and you’re a dumb 14-year-old who should appreciate the privilege of being among the Rome trip big shots and not the waterpark guttersnipes.
In the morning, Miss Ungermeyer takes them all to the Trevi Fountain and no one seems remotely jetlagged. Lizzie tells Gordo to throw a coin in and make a wish, but he says, ten notches too earnestly, “I’m in Rome with my best friend!! I’m good!!!!” Guys, the script wants you to know that Gordo is The Best Friend.
Lizzie makes a wish, and opens her eyes, and sees…..
THIS GUY. But this is already pretty long, so we’ll get into that next time. Tune in tomorrow!