Movie Mom
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Do you have a Jonas Brothers fan in your family? Or maybe a fanatic?
Some parents have found their children’s devotion to the latest pop stars a little disconcerting. One father suggested that his daughter’s enthusiasm might merit a discussion of idolatry.
There’s a reason that they are called “idols.” Going back to Frank Sinatra and the bobby soxers before that to fan favorites like Oscar Wilde (whose fans were parodied by Gilbert and Sullivan in “Patience”), the individuals holding the position have been highly transitory but the idea of the teen idol has been enduring.
Certain themes are consistent. They may be a little edgy — sometimes a mildly transgressive element of their appearance like the Beatles’ long hair or a pierced Backstreet Boy. But overall, they tend to be reassuringly safe, slender, non-threatening, often almost pre-pubescent. Names like “Bobby,” “Ricky,” “Donny” suggest that they are almost children. Groups like the Jonas Brothers, ‘N Synch, and New Kids on the Block are popular because they give fans a chance to join in affection for the group but keep a sense of individual connection to “the cute one” or “the smart one” or “the funny one.” JonasBrothers1028x768TigerBeat.jpg
It is very important for parents to recognize that these idols are a “transition object” for tweens and young teens that is an essential step in their emotional development. In between the time when their primary focus is the home and family and the time when they will leave to begin their lives as adults, teen idols give them a chance for a dress rehearsal of some of the emotions they will feel. That does not mean that these feelings are not love or that they are not completely real. It does mean that there is an element of fantasy. Think of it as love with training wheels.
No matter how obsessively they may study the lives of these young men, they do not really know them. What they know is the carefully manufactured creation of corporate marketers. But that is just right for this stage of development because it enables them to project their own feelings onto them. It is exactly this fantasy that helps kids begin the journey to emotional maturity, the same way that playing dress-up was a way for them to begin to make sense of the adult world just a short time ago. Indeed, the love of teen idols is a form of dress-up, experimenting with some of the feelings of adulthood without the messiness of actual relationships.
Just as important, these feelings provide a bond with friends at this crucial moment when those connections are just assuming a much more significant role. Fanship gives tweens something to talk about, a private language, training wheels for what will become in their adult years the ability to talk to each other about the things that matter in a way that will strengthen their trust and respect.
Parents should respect these feelings and use them as a starting point for some important conversations. Ask them which brother they like best and why. This may be a chance to share some of your own experiences (you know that Bay City Rollers poster is still tucked away somewhere) but the focus of the conversation should be on the fan. They should reassure the child that these feelings of love are very real and an essential step toward building their ability for love and appreciation of family, romance, and even the divine.

A pampered pooch goes on an unexpected adventure but just about everything else in this movie is only too predictable. Drew Barrymore provides the voice for Chloe, a cashmere couture and diamond collar-clad chihuahua. She enjoys the high life with her wealthy owner, Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis), with a full schedule of shopping and parties. But then Viv’s niece Rachel (Piper Perabo) loses Chloe in Mexico and it will require the help of humans and dogs and even a rat and an iguana to get her safely home.

The protected princess must find her way in a world that is dirty and scary but also exciting. She is chased by bad guys with a scary Doberman named Diablo (voice of Edward James Olmos) and tricked by thieves (a rat voiced by Cheech Marin and an iguana voiced by Paul Rodriguez). But she is befriended by a brave German Shepard (voice of Andy Garcia). And her friends come to the rescue: Rachel and Sam, Viv’s handsome landscaper (Colombian actor Manolo Cardona), and Sam’s lion-hearted chihuahua Papi (voice of George Lopez), with the help of Officer Ramirez (Mexican actor Jesus Ochoa).

The trailer makes it look like a light-hearted doggie fish out of water story with a Busby Berkeley-esque musical number that does not appear in the film. Instead it is a lazy strung-together series of sketchy episodes — oh! the sheltered darling got all muddy and lost a bootie! Dear me, the alabaster goddess is surrounded by brown dogs with accents! Will Delgado desert her? Will Diablo catch her? Will Rachel and Sam start to like each other?

A wide range of outstanding Latino performers does not keep this film from an overlay of condescension and caricature. The jokes about couture and beauty treatments and Rachel’s mistaking the landscaper for a non-English-speaking gardener will not mean anything to the film’s target audience of young children. They will enjoy the cute pooches and “tinkle” humor but may be frightened by the mean Doberman and dog-napping bad guys.

It’s a messy, lackluster movie that feels like it was put together by a committee, product, not story, with a soundtrack of over-played, over-familiar, all-but-inevitable radio favorites. Could Cheech Marin ever have predicted that he would once again appear in a movie that features his signature song, “Low Rider,” and that it would be such a dog?

Writer/director Baz Luhrmann is known for his surprises. In Strictly Ballroom, William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet , and Moulin Rouge! he created visual and musical mash-ups of classic and pop that achieved, sometimes apparently accidentally, some transcendence and that were just about always a lot of fun.

But this big epic is told absolutely straight and is all the duller for it. The moment we see the tight little walk of Lady Sarah Ashley (could there be a more snore-ific character name) in her immaculate little suit with the veiled hat, we know it is her destiny to meet a dusty cowpoke and Learn a Few Things, probably involving some earthy cattle, some frolicking in water with said cowpoke, some enlightening experiences involving earthy native peoples, an look of growing appreciation and approval from the earth-smeared cowpoke as he discovers that she has some spunk, a test of her mettle, and a new appreciation for, well, earthiness.

It all unfolds like a script that could have starred John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and probably did at some point. Three Aussies (one playing a Brit) have made a movie that gives us no special feel for the country’s landscapes, culture, and history. The one attempt to engage us with something meaningful, the authorized abduction of mixed-race children for government-run camps, has little of the power of the fact-based “Rabbit-Proof Fence.” Re-cuts are evident in a last half-hour that seems to end three or four times with two too many reversals. The setting, timing, and accents may be new but there isn’t one line, one plot development, one bad guy, or one adorable urchin that we have not seen before, anything that feels new, or real, or arresting. It’s always nice to see pretty people in grand vistas doing great things and falling in love as the music swells, but in telling the story that should have been most his own, Luhrmann has ceded his vision to someone else.

I am very pleased that one of my favorite people will be talking to parents about raising spiritually healthy children in a Tikkun telephone forum today at 6:00 PM PST (9:00 PM EST).

Rev. Debra Haffner has worked with parents and children for over twenty-five years and has written extensively about raising healthy children. On Monday’s Phone Forum she will discuss ways to nurture a child’s spirituality beyond worship and education, including exploring life’s big questions together, creating shared rituals, and promoting an ethic of action or tikkun olam into every child’s upbringing. Rev. Haffner is a sexologist and a minister, and the Director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.

If you would like to participate in the call, dial 1 888 346 3950 and ENTER CODE 11978. Tikkun Managing Editor Dave Belden will interview Debra Haffner for twenty minutes, then he’ll take questions from participants.

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