Lucy is a good girl--high school honors student, dutiful daughter and lonely virgin. So in her bedroom, the night before she is to give her valedictory address, she does what any prim miss played by Britney Spears would do: she parades in her briefs (which couldn't be briefer) and karaokes her pristine butt off to Madonna's Open Your Heart.
With the release of Crossroads, Hollywood joins MTV, radio stations and the magazine industry in surrendering to this pop-cultural juggernaut: all Britney, all the time. The image of the 20-year-old's faux-sexy, Barbiefied prettiness is as pervasive a presence in American homes as the Pope's used to be in Italian ones. Now Spears joins Mandy Moore, in the surprise hit A Walk to Remember, and Aaliyah, in Queen of the Damned--the film the R.-and-B. star made just before her death--in a trifecta of teen queens turned screen queens. Girl power is back in the 'plexes, and this time it sings. Can the new batch of thrushes have the impact of Judy Garland, Betty Hutton, Lena Horne, Doris Day, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Madonna, Whitney Houston and Jennifer Lopez? (Not to mention a couple of crooners named Crosby and Sinatra.)
Three movies with pop-star leads could give some fizz to the current lackluster release schedule. On Hollywood's calendar, January and February are the Dumpster months; it's where to put films that are not for critics, Academy members or people over 15. Or, in this case of the Britney and Mandy movies, guys. Crossroads and A Walk to Remember are old-fashioned chick flicks: one a gal-bonding movie, the other a love story very much like Love Story. Way back, these were prominent genres, giving juicy roles to a galaxy of female stars. Now women's pictures--or, in the current demographic devolution, girl movies--are so rare that when two or more appear within a month, we can hope it's the start of a trend back to a more gender-equal cinema.
Girl movies go against the grain of the recent Hollywood norm, which is that guys rule. To synopsize the prevailing wisdom: movies are about revenge; TV is about reconciliation. Reconciliation is also the theme of the typical girl movie; it traces parallel paths of self-discovery and fence mending. (A Walk to Remember and Crossroads have about a dozen of these I-forgive-you-oh-no-let-me-forgive-you-first scenes.) Audiences trained to expect a climax of bloody or comic revenge have to settle for hugs and smiles and maybe a tear. To enjoy these films is to get in touch with your inner softie. And that doesn't fit today's jock-and-schlock film climate, where "nice" is the tiniest niche.
Unlike the Britney and Mandy movies, Aaliyah's fits into the prevailing guy mode: a threnody of "sex, blood and rock 'n' roll," in the words of its lead vampire, Lestat. (Director Michael Rymer's film is based on an Anne Rice novel.) While Lestat, played with a handsomely snaky androgyny by Stuart Townsend, wows the kids with his rock-star act, the ancient Queen Akasha waits to be roused from her slumber. Waits for most of the movie: Akasha-Aaliyah doesn't show up until the last third, by which time she has received a bigger buildup than the sled in Citizen Kane.