‘Lizzie McGuire’ a refreshing surprise

  • Andrea Miller<br>Enterprise features editor
  • Thursday, February 28, 2008 6:22am

With “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” bubbly 15-year-old Hilary Duff gets a chance to expand the character she’s made famous as the star of the Disney Channel’s “Lizzie McGuire.” The wildly successful TV series geared toward pre-teens follows the comedic misadventures of a typical middle school student — and her animated alter ego — in all her gawky, adolescent glory. Since this is a Disney production, however, the logical marketing progression (after a well-received book series and CD soundtrack) is to put the character on the big screen to lure in a whole new audience — i.e. those who either don’t have a TV or have been living in a cave for the last three years.

For the show’s leap to film, Lizzie and her best friend Gordo (Adam Lamberg) take off for a class trip to Italy. While there, Lizzie finds herself mistaken for the Italian pop star Isabella (also played by Duff). In the process of this identity mix-up, Lizzie becomes smitten with Isabella’s singing partner and former boyfriend, Paolo (Yani Gellman). As Gordo observes Lizzie’s interaction with Paolo, he begins to examine his feelings for her.

What sets this film apart from a long line of over-packaged, slickly marketed teen idol vehicles (though it has its moments) is that the outcome of all this really isn’t typical of the genre. There is the standard fairy tale fantasy plot device as Lizzie tries on the glamorous Isabella persona. There are the romantic possibilities presented by Paolo’s Italian Prince Charming figure. In the end, however, the story ultimately communicates that individuality and being your own person is a good thing — something that most teenage girls don’t hear enough in real life.

It’s also a refreshing surprise to see a real, live teenage girl in a lead role on the big screen. Poised on that threshold between childhood and adulthood herself, Duff makes Lizzie a believable character because she actually IS an average teenage girl (well, an average teenage girl who has a publicist, a stylist and an agent). Her fans identify with her because as Lizzie says early in the film, she knows all too well the “embarrassing, awkward and humiliating moments” of adolescence.

From the reaction of the audience (which included not only pre-teen girls, but boys and adults), this film will be the talk of the playground for weeks to come. It’s a genuinely funny and thoughtful movie that both teens and adults will like. Hopefully that translates into the box office success that movie studio executives are after. Then perhaps they’ll take notice that teen audiences do respond to a young heroine who looks a little more like a real teenager and a lot less like a two-dimensional woman-child.

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