Directed by: Joe Nussbaum
Starring: Alexa Vega, Mika Boorem, Sara Paxton, Timothy Dowling
I watched Joe Nussbaum's debut feature with a true sense of wonderment -- over who actually green-lighted this project.
It's not that Sleepover is a bad film on its own terms. It's generally sweet in tone and moves nicely, and production values are solid, if not exactly lavish. The cast, too, is appealing, and Alexa Vega (Spy Kids) has the makings of a full-fledged movie star. So what's the problem? Just this: Sleepover is Mean Girls Lite, and the film's presumed target audience probably doesn't exist. Or if it does, that crowd probably already saw Mean Girls and isn't likely to care much about this weak-tea variant.
Judging by the local sneak preview of the film drawing an audience barely in the double digits, I'd say we're looking at the Gigli of 'tween flicks in terms of box-office. At best, Sleepover is likely to be the little movie that died of indifference -- no doubt aggravated by a bad trailer that chooses to end every scene with the sound of girls giggling inanely. In fact, the trailer so grated on me that I almost opted out of a chance to screen this film early. I'm kind of glad I didn't, because I actually enjoyed most of it. But here's the catch: It's a long time since I was 14, and never was I a 14-year-old girl.
Neither, I suspect, was Mr. Nussbaum, who hasn't seen that age in any form for a few years now and, rather peculiarly, seems to be of the opinion that nothing much has changed since he did. Now, I don't know what they play at junior-high-school dances these days, but I do know that when I was attending such events, bands tended to lean toward whatever was then popular. I suspect that much is still true today; regardless, I'm absolutely certain that bands covering obscure Oingo Boingo songs from the late '80s ("We Close Our Eyes") are reasonably scarce. And if not, then I'd love to know what form of subculture is being fostered in our public-school system.
This is just one example of how the film strikes me as out of touch with the very audience it's trying to attract. Sleepover is far more likely to snag parents than the kids themselves -- and what self-respecting 14-year-old is going to want to go to a movie her folks would like?
If anyone really cares, the story line is pretty trite: Julie (Vega) has invited some friends to attend an innocent sleepover at the end of the school year. Things aren't going so well for her lately; she's in a hurry to grow up, especially since her best friend, Hannah (Mika Boorem, Hearts in Atlantis), is about to move away, leaving Julie to fend for herself in high school the next year.
Of course, complications are on the way. Here they take the form of a snooty, popular girl (Sara Paxton), who goads the rest of them into competing in a scavenger hunt -- the prize being who gets to sit at the good lunch table at school. It's a silly premise, but functional enough for the purposes of the film; likewise, it contains the seeds for a lot of passable gags (and a handful of pretty good ones), and even allows for a few moments of genuine sweetness and emotion. There's a truly touching scene in which Julie's Internet date turns out to be her teacher (Timothy Dowling) -- and, to her surprise, also a pretty nice guy who sympathizes with her plight.
A lot of what makes Sleepover work is Alexa Vega, who manages to bring a surprising degree of emotional weight to her role, and has one of the most believable crying scenes in recent memory. However, I fear it's all for nothing in a nice -- but unspectacular -- movie that no one is going to bother seeing.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke