[19 August 2008]
Upon concluding our slog through Picture This, a movie which seemed, initially, to hold the promise of offering Valuable Lessons for Teens, my Viewing Companion turned to me, threw her hands up in the air in exasperation and declared “No one learns any Valuable Lessons in this movie”. I couldn’t help but agree.
See, generally with teen/tweener romantic comedy piffle of this nature, there is some concluding moral to justify its existence, some sort of blandly trite platitude which binds all the outrageous behavior and improbable chain of events together under an umbrella of good sense. There is revelation at the end of the tunnel, a Valuable Lesson is learned – you know, something along the lines of “Money and beauty and popularity aren’t everything”, or “Landing the guy of your dreams at the cost of your soul just isn’t worth it”. You know, stuff that every high schooler should learn.
Those are Valuable Lessons, to be sure, and seem to be exactly the kind Picture This is trying to impart, at least at first. Except that, 20-minutes in, “poor” “ugly” “dorky” Mandy (a valiant Ashley Tisdale, fighting a hopeless uphill battle against a horrid script) bags her dream guy with effortless ease and seems set to thwart the cabal of mean girls who’ve plagued her all her high school years. Well, that was easy – but isn’t this all supposed to come at the end of the film? Interesting developments here—perhaps Picture This will stand the genre and clichés on their heads, pulling the Mean Girls template inside out. Promising…
Well, or so we thought, Viewing Companion and I, until we discovered that Picture This had a whole different Valuable Lesson rotting its way outward from its diseased core, deceptively hidden among its fun and frivolity. Because, you see, when Viewing Companion made her post-film proclamation, she was only half right. A Valuable Lesson is learned here—just not a good one. To wit, that it’s perfectly okay to lie your head off to your parents without compunction, as long as you are creative with your subterfuge and, in the end, get away with it. Which, fine, we’ve seen this done a thousand times before, too. That’s not the odious part.
No, what really is quite galling is that, from about the 30-minute mark on, the film becomes some sort of bizarre (and quite creepily icky) morality play/ tug-o-war between father and daughter, about her trying to win his trust, and about him needing to monitor (quite literally, with a video phone) her every move (though ostensibly trying to let go of his little girl at the same time). Again, a thousand times before.
But what reasonable person would think that it’s morally consistent and permissible for the daughter to win her father’s trust, ultimately, by continuously and deliberately lying to him, with morally questionable ruses of ever escalating improbability, and then let her get away with it all? Like, not just get away with and succeed at the whole point of all the lying (meeting her dream guy at the Big Party), but succeed in winning her father’s trust. Forget about the whole logical disconnect at work here for a second – what sort of message is this sending “The Kids”?
Picture This premiered on the ABC Family Channel (before going straight to DVD), and is very much marketed as and supposedly made to be a family friendly, kid-safe movie. Isn’t that the whole raison d’être of the Family Channel, which is but one genome removed from the Disney Channel? And yet the questionable behavior of our heroine does nothing but relentlessly undercut any sane notion of personal responsibility and parental authority.
Lest you think Viewing Companion and I are just prudish moral crusaders, let it be known that our objections aren’t necessarily moral (despite our protestations above), but, rather, logical. The premise of the film, the entire script, its set-up and odious conclusion, make so little sense to us, strictly on a filmic level, that we have a hard time believing an actual human being wrote this, another human being green-lit this mess, and then a whole film crew and cast signed on board. For shame, ABC Family Channel. For shame “Temple Mathews” (screenwriter—if that is your real name). And for shame Ashley Tisdale, for both producing and starring in this mess.
A quick note: Viewing Companion and I are unapologetic fans of Ms. Tisdale, who is fairly brilliant as the high-strung, high-maintenance “Queen Bee” Sharpay in the High School Musical films. She has good chops and effortless comic timing, and is really the only bright spot in this disaster. But even her gung-ho gameness withers in the face of the script. It’s soul destroying stuff, really.
We also give the ever reliable Kevin Pollack (playing Tisdale’s father) a pass, though we imagine the movie would have been better if he’d just done his transcendent Christopher Walken impersonation the whole time he was on screen. Check it out on Youtube sometime—it’s one of the all time great impersonations.
Viewing Companion and I fully expected the extras for Picture This to be as obnoxious and bottom-of-the-barrel as the film itself, so how delighted were we when we found at least two which were actually quite fun, or at least more fun than watching the film itself. Of course, the first one we sampled, a 12-question multiple choice quiz about what we just witnessed, requires actual watching of the film, which is too bad. But other than that, it was quite enjoyable, and there are little hilarious clips from the film after you answer each question, either congratulating you for your astuteness, or mocking you for your inattention.
I’m happy to report that Viewing Companion passed the test with flying colors (she was obviously paying closer attention than I) and was roundly praised by Ashley Tisdale, whereas I was summarily denigrated when I screwed up on the very first question. Ah, the dangers of DVD reviewing. Our reward for passing: A two-minute behind the scenes clip where all the girls in the film do a lot of squealing over one another. I would think that something more substantial would have been in order for our effort.
The other great extra (my favorite) is a selection of three short commentaries presented under the totally awesome heading “GR8! SCENE SPECIFIC TEXTING!” OMG!, it was so totes cool! See, the DVD gives you the option to watch these scenes with commentary by actresses Shenae Grimes and Lauren Collins (who play Tisdale’s BFFs in the film), delivered entirely in scrolling cellphone text speak. This is if you choose the “Cool” option—if you are, say, over the age of 18, you may want to choose the “Oblivious” setting, which scrolls out in actual readable English.
Anyway, the text commentary is a horror of strings of consonants, numbers swapped out for letters, illogical acronyms, inscrutable syntax, and cryptic hieroglyphs. We had a ball freezing each “sentence” and trying to decode what they were writing, and I’m not exaggerating when I say we spent at least… um, well, at least a half hour doing this (we don’t get out much). Viewing Companion had better luck than I, but we were both flummoxed by “3:o)z”, which somehow or other turns out to be “girlz”. O RLY? Anyway, watching the commentary section on this “Cool” setting was much better than “Oblivious”, which contributed nothing with its obviousness. Better to let our actresses’ thoughts remain a mystery.
A “Making Of” feature and a string of short (really short, like 30 seconds) interviews called “Cell Phone Confessions” round out the platter, and add absolutely nothing redeeming, rendering the extras a draw, really. Too bad, since the other two were among my favorite DVD extras of all time.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/picture-this/