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Sleepover (2004)


A most pleasant surprise, Sleepover is reminiscent of last year’s hit Freaky Friday, an unabashedly goofy kids’ movie with good intentions that adults will enjoy more than they have any right to.

Julie (Alexa Vega from the Spy Kids trilogy) is a 14-year-old whose life is in crisis, not a big surprise for a teenager. Her best friend is moving to Vancouver, leaving Julie alone and unpopular as middle school ends and high school looms near. Her former best friend, Stacie (Sara Paxton), has now joined a group of popular, cosmetically gifted girls who resemble an underclass version of the Plastics in Mean Girls.

Home isn’t much better either, what with her annoying, slacker brother (Sam Huntington), her doofus dad (Jeff Garlin), and her mom (the always helpful Jane Lynch), who treats poor Julie like she’s in preschool. With trouble at home and at school, Julie’s sleepover is an ideal distraction at an ideal time.

Julie and her friends are doing things that girls typically do at sleepovers – makeovers, freezing bras, talking about William F. Buckley’s departure from National Review – when Stacie delivers a challenge: a scavenger hunt that sticks its tongue at parental authority. Staying out late! Leaving the house! Initially, Julie refuses to participate, but she soon changes her mind. First, the winner lands a coveted lunch spot by the high school fountain. Second, one of the tasks involve possibly meeting the boy of Julie’s dreams, Steve (Sean Faris), a hunky skater in the Tom Welling/Chad Michael Murray mode. So, the hunt is on, curfew be damned!

The movie proceeds as you would expect, with Julie and her cohorts encountering mischief and romantic possibilities at every turn, while an uppity security guard follows their every move (a hysterical Steven Carell). What makes Sleepover rise above dreck like Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen is the casting. Vega delivers a charismatic performance, displaying a mixture of goofiness and melodrama. Vega and her allies are perfectly cast; they look and act like teenagers. There isn’t a Shannon Elizabeth or Anne Hathaway in the bunch, giving girls in the audience identifiable role models and not an excuse to start dieting. Meanwhile, Stacie and ‘the Pleathers’ (as one character refers to Stacie’s group) inspire hate all the way with their fashion magazine coifs and designer clothes.

Director Joe Nussbaum and writer Elisa Bell do a tremendous job in setting the right pace and tone. The movie never lags or retraces its steps, but always offers the promise of excitement and bigger things ahead, while delivering lessons without violins playing or your eyes rolling. It’s reminiscent of John Hughes’s best work. Call it Farrah Bueller’s Night Out.

The movie has a series of minor flaws that will have you occasionally shaking your head. There is one girl in Julie’s trio of friends whose name is never mentioned but is always around. Julie wins her mom’s trust, though not without employing some sneaky tactics. Some audience members, especially dads, might feel uncomfortable over the fact that the guys these girls are interested in look as if they’re ready to start pledging fraternities. But if Benjamin Braddock can shack up with Mrs. Robinson and Finch can seduce Stifler’s mom, than girls should be girls. And that’s exactly why Sleepover wins you over. In its characters’ quest for an adventurous good time while putting their insecurities on hold, the movie makes you want to be a teenager all over again.

The DVD adds a commentary from director Joe Nussbaum and the cast, two featurettes, a gag reel, and a handful of other pre- and early-teen-friendly features.

How come we didn’t get invited?