What follows is the epitome of those time-wasting, gooey Hollywood tween audience-pleasers that completely fails to connect as entertainment or engage any of the senses or emotions in any way. Cliché follows cliché as the actors race around trying to find something tangible to hold on to. There is nothing to find; this is a comedy without a single joke (beyond the meta-joke of Duff’s tortured performance), a single original idea or even the merest flash of cinematic inspiration. Its mush; pre-chewed pap for unimaginative children, and worse, part of the same string of deep-rooted cultural enzymes that are poisoning our waters with consumerist, ambitious and deeply cynical stories of the American teenage experience. Its oily professionalism and deliberate messaging is just one part of a complex, gangrenous social venom that has a generation of Irish children speaking like air headed San Fernando Valley cheerleaders, an ear-wrenching intonation that turns every statement into a lilting question, peppered with like…totally…whatever.
This is a film that is beyond criticism in that it knows full well that it’s a piece of aspirational fluff with as much depth as a paddling pool and all the impact of a pillow fight. There is really nothing further to say, beyond noting that Hilary Duff has surely entered into some kind of diabolical contract as her success is otherwise a mystery. Duff represents all that is wrong in children’s cinema. Here is a teenage actress of extraordinary limitation, with no perceivable emotional range and the inability to deliver even the most straightforward line reading, elevated to the status of an icon. Every squeaky word spewed torturously from between Duff’s trembling pout, emerges from beneath her pert nose and furrowed brow to fall gasping on the floor, bereft. The rest of the cast stand around to watch it die. She is the mashed potatoes of cinema: white, bland and starchy. Like in the similarly Geneva Convention–defying Cinderella Story or The Lizzie Maguire Movie, Duff offers nothing because she has nothing to offer. Although she gives every impression that someone with a sandblaster has given her smooth head the once over, both inside and out, faded beauty queen Heather Locklear as the man-crazy mother somehow manages to transcend the dire nature of the material to offer fragmentary glimpses of a woman lost and alone in middle age, fearful of the future and desperate for happiness. But she’s drowning, adrift in the overwhelming pointlessness of the thing. Whatever indeed.