The Lizzie McGuire Movie, a big-screen version of the Disney Channel's cute-cute Lizzie McGuire show about an awkward middle-schooler, is bland and happy and takes place in a sort of 1960s Doris Day travelogue of Rome where the American characters land at the airport and immediately attach a vowel to everything.
Sitcoms have been construct-ing two-part episodes around material like this since The Brady Bunch. The seemingly narcoleptic best-friend character perks up. “So much Roma, so little tima!” Then it's on to Roma, or a Viewmaster Roma, as seen by field-tripping tweens experiencing Europe from the window of a tour bus.
The movie is not without its charms: There are weird costumes to look at, some pretty scenery, a harmless plot for parents looking for the most homogenized, least-offensive studio product available. But it is, frankly, also the longest, unofficial Olive Garden ad ever.
And incidentally, have you seen the latest one? Apparently this guy's relative gets his visa and emigrates from Italy to America. He's old Italy, the spitting image of Geppetto. So where does his family celebrate his decade-old dream of a new life in the United States?
When The Lizzie McGuire Movie opens in Rome, I would pay to be in attendance and see the audience's eyes roll at the Roman Holiday-ization of Italy. Every concierge is a screwball. Every meal is spaghetti and meatballs. Every woman is either impossibly sexy or carrying a 20-pound wheel of provolone. Lizzie is played by lip-biting 15-year-old Hilary Duff. She's real unaffected for a child star. She's Lizzie from the block, she used to have a little, now she still has a little, but she's not looking for any rocks. So there is promise - possibly someday soon she will out J.Lo the J.Lo and become Uber J.Lo and force parents everywhere to shake their heads in disgust at her music video set in a Panamanian prison rave.
But at the moment she's very natural. So why do movies for children never capture what it must be like to be young and in a foreign land for the first time? The mood doesn't have to be real, only curious. I hate that knee-jerk blow-off that it's “just for kids anyway.” Kids are flock-ing to the idiosyncratic adaptation of Holes. Here, we get a Bizarro Europe where the modest pleasures of the cable series are skipped to make room for a plot every American kiddie flick takes when it heads overseas. It aspires to nothing more than smiling imitation.
Besides, didn't I just see this? Amanda Bynes dragged her Nickelodeon self to London, fell down a lot, found love with an English pop singer, then riches, and the movie was called last month's What a Girl Wants. Duff takes her TV character to Italy, where she is clumsy and finds puppy love with an earnest Italian pop sensation, and the film briefly becomes Lizzie Loves Chachi. She doesn't leave rich, but she does leave a superstar and gets to sing that “this is what dreams are made of,” and, to be fair, if you're 11 years old, it's likely you'll have no problem with this latest bit of wish fulfillment. (Feel free to add a star to my rating.)
There is also a modicum of story as Lizzie is found to resemble the Italian pop singer Isabella (played by Duff in a black wig) and she fools the Italians (despite having no accent and being obviously American). She learns to be herself, which, in Lizzie's words, means “driving around with the top down and putting on lip gloss and living life!” There's also a brief stop at the self-esteem clinic, where Lizzie decides her Rome adventure will “give her a chance to start over,” although she just graduated junior high. Again, harmless but typical.
What the movie really has on its mind is montages, lots and lots of montages. Because a music-video/triptych fills just as much screen time as those scenes where people have to, you know, show emotion, roughly every few minutes we see Lizzie riding through Rome on a motorcycle, Lizzie seeing the sights, and the scene no movie for teenage girls would be complete without: the montage of Lizzie trying on clothes. The Lizzie McGuire Movie has two. The first scene is a try-on-clothes, lip-synching hugaboo. Apparently this is what a girl wants: to be a tone-deaf Sandra Dee with an Italian himbo and a tryout on European Idol.