The squeals of joy from the audience began as soon as Hilary Duff’s name appeared in the credits and quickly escalated into sounds only dogs could hear as Duff, playing Lizzie McGuire, worked her way through guaranteed girl-pleasers: Lizzie is admired by a handsome international pop star, she gets a makeover and tries on a lot of wild clothes, she triumphs over the popular girl who insults her all the time, and she even gets to live a superstar dream with all her friends and family in the audience. That means that if you or someone you love is between the ages of 7-14, and especially of the female variety, then as those Borgs say in “Star Trek,” “Resistance is futile.”
Lizzie’s graduation from middle school becomes massively humiliating when she is called on as a last minute substitute speaker and trips so spectacularly that she brings down the backdrop on top of the entire graduating class. But she is looking forward to a trip to Rome with her friends, even though it is led by her new high school principal, Miss Ungermeyer (Alex Borstein), a woman with all the tactics and charm of a drill sergeant. Her spirits remain undimmed even when she finds out that Kate (Ashlie Brillault), a girl whose pleasure in being popular is nowhere near the pleasure of reminding Lizzie that she is not, will be coming along.
In Rome, Lizzie meets Paulo (Yani Gellman), a dreamy Italian teen pop idol who is mesmerized by her uncanny resemblance to his singing partner. She pretends to be sick so she can sneak out to tour Rome on the back of his Vespa, and he persuades her to pretend to be his partner on a live award broadcast. She feels like Cinderella. But she ends up learning some new things about old friends, and some old lessons about her new one.
It’s not really a movie. It’s just a 90-minute episode of the popular television show on the Disney channel, with some extra money in the budget to film on location in Rome. But we can be grateful that it is a nice, wholeome story created for an age group usually neglected by Hollywood. Duff has a warm, sweet presence and the use of a little animated Lizzie to comment on the action adds a liveliness to her adventures. I liked Lizzie’s relationship with best pal-who-just-might-be-more David Gordon (Adam Lamberg). And I liked the way that Lizzie’s friend-turned nemesis, Kate showed a little class and more than a little humility without getting sugary.
Parents should know that there is some mildly crude language. Lizzie’s brother and his best friend conspire to blackmail Lizzie and to sell embarrassing pictures of her. Lizzie and her friends lie so that she can spend time with Paulo. There is a very sweet kiss between people who care very much for each other. Lizzie wears a navel-baring outfit.
Families who see this movie should talk about whether people really do make their own luck, and how wishes can help. They should talk about the lies Lizzie, Kate, and Gordo told — which are worse? Should Lizzie have been suspicious when Paulo wanted her to deceive the audience? How did Lizzie decide whom she could trust? Paulo says everyone has trouble feeling confident — do you agree? Why do Miss Ungermeyer and Sergei speak of themselves in the third person? Do you agree that girls who act like they know everything are a “turn-off?”
Families who enjoy this movie might like to compare it to some of its inspirations, including “Gidget Goes to Rome,” and the syrupy classic with the Oscar-winning theme song, “Three Coins in the Fountain.” And every family should watch the utterly enchanting first leading performance by Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday.”