What bugs me the most about this movie is not that it is cynical, synthetic, exploitative, and lazy, though it is all of those things. It is not that it alternates being dull with being both painful and dull, though it is both of those things. What bugs me the most is that it has no idea who its audience is and does not seem to care.
A successful G-rated movie can be for all ages but it must by definition have a plot and characters with some appeal for children. Usually, the best way to do this is to have a significant and engaging character who is a child. This is a movie about a high school senior (TV star Raven-Symone as Mel) who wants to go to college far away from home. The whole issue of this major separation that feels so natural at age 17 is something that young children not only do not identify with easily; some may find it downright disturbing.
The major idea of the movie, played for high humor, is Mel’s over-protective father (Martin Lawrence James, a cop). This can be done in a way that is illuminating and resonant (see Finding Nemo — please, instead of this movie). Here, it seems inappropriate and downright creepy, especially since it is so out of proportion to James’ devotion to his wife, which seems lukewarm by comparison, and to his super-bright young son. Not over-protective here, James’ treatment of his other child falls somewhere between being distant and being repelled. The only other person James is fixated on is his mother, who is so terrified of his interference in her life that she cannot let him know about her wild side: she likes to dance.
This plays out over a driving-from-Illinois-to-Washington plot that would make even the lightweight storylines of That’s So Raven seem literary. It would make the lightweight storylines of a Bazooka Joe comic strip seem literary. How many times have we seen the hyper-cheery white family who relentlessly sing show tunes? How many times has there been the adorably disruptive stow-away? How many times has there been the pet pig who ruins the wedding of the plus-size bride by topplng a life-size butter statue of her in her wedding dress? Okay, we haven’t seen that one before but that’s because no one should ever have to see it — ever. The same goes for Mel’s telling her parents that she is going to study and instead running off to a weirdly G-rated rave and not one but two completely un-funny mix-ups involving characters with gender-neutral names. There is also something weirdly off in having Mel’s family be pretty much the only African-Americans on the planet (except when a presentable potential date for Mel is called for) as well as the stereotyped bus full of Japanese karaoke singers who happily provide back-up for Raven-Symone’s big musical number.
This is the kind of baloney that a pre-sold brand produces because no one cares whether it is any good. But parents should insist on better than this condescending pre-fab fan-fodder. Movies, like doctors, should pledge to first do no harm. This one will leave anyone who is looking for comedy, heart, or story a little bruised.
Parents should know that while this movie is rated G it does have some mild potty humor and bad teenage and adult behavior. Characters lie, steal, housebreak, and cause a good deal of chaos and destruction without any consequences. A character uses a gun for target practice and two characters get tased.
Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for Mel to talk to her father. Why was it hard for her father to let her go?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Dr. Dolittle and That’s So Raven – Supernaturally Stylish with Raven-Symone.