Sleepover (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Grown up out of the Spy Kids franchise, awkwardly charming Alexa Vega has run smack into tweens heck.


Director: Joe Nussbaum
Cast: Alexa Vega, Mika Boorem, Kallie Flynn Childress, Scout Taylor-Compton, Sara Paxton, Sam Huntington, Jane Lynch, Jeff Garlin
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: MGM
First date: 2004
US Release Date: 2004-07-09

Grown up out of the Spy Kids franchise, awkwardly charming Alexa Vega has run smack into tweens heck. Less obviously self-absorbed than her slight elders Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff, or Mary-Kate and Ashley, she's still cute like a child, not nearly so jailbaity as the current fashion. At the same time, she can pass for clever, so you can imagine her on her way to full-fledged adolescence, eager, smart, and appropriately poised.

In the doggedly unoriginal Sleepover, Vega carries a heavy load with impressive grace. As Julie, just graduating from junior high school, she faces the imminent loss of her best friend, Hannah (Mika Boorem), whose family is moving away. In an effort to ease the parting and look forward to the next stages of their lives, the girls plan a slumber party, despite (or because of) the fact that Julie's mom, Gabby (Jane Lynch), has forbidden her from leaving the house.

As if to raise the nominal stakes for the girls' last night together, the overwrought film (written by Elisa Bell and directed by Joe Nussbaum) puts them in a humdrum predicament. They back into a competition with the popular (mean) girls for the best lunch spot at high school (which won't start for three months, and which, one would think, already has a system in place for assigning lunch tables). The contest involves a scavenger hunt, pitting Julie and nice girls Hannah, Yancy (Kallie Flynn Childress), and Farrah (Scout Taylor-Compton), against Staci (Sara Paxton) and her self-absorbed, already Barbicized compatriots. Sure that they'll win the scavenger hunt, the popular girls also plan to make it to the graduation dance in time to show off to everyone their consummate superiority.

The night is reduced to a series of episodic shenanigans. First, Julie and Hannah must secure the help of Julie's brother Ren (Sam Huntington), to distract their goofy, supposedly babysitting dad Jay (Jeff Garlin) while the girls sneak out the window. The evolving scheme involves Ren feigning interest in Jay's monumental efforts to install a water purifier in the kitchen sink, making noises like the girls dancing upstairs (to the Spice Girls' "Wannabe" -- um, isn't this 2004?), and chowing down the pizzas the girls have ordered before their departure (the gluttony leads to bloated bellies for him and the family dog -- not exactly hilarious, but not quite fart jokes either).

The scavenger tasks include Julie's posing as an "older" girl to meet an online-organized date, which means that while her friends wear their own clothes, she's decked out in her mom's red dress, made vaguely sensational by some crafty cutting (this makes for a nifty visual when, pressed for time, Julie takes off on a skateboard, scooting through suburban streets, her dress splashy in car headlights). The fact that she has arranged to rendezvous with the girls' teacher, Mr. Chilton (Timothy Dowling), is not a little disturbing (what is he doing trolling the internet for dates?). The awkward moment is somewhat ameliorated by the turn of events: Hannah and Julie encourage him to take off his glasses and muss his hair to attract a woman his own age. (Thanks, girls!)

For the most part, however, it is the girls and not adults who must learn lessons throughout the movie's inelegant installment structure. They are hounded by a relentless neighborhood security officer named Sherman (Steve Carell, who is plainly typecast for life), determined to prove something by capturing them and obviously incapable of learning anything. They also end up ducking Julie's mom, who inconveniently (or conveniently) shows up dancing at the same club where the girls meet Mr. Chilton. (What is it with the adults in this town, anyway?)

On the boys front -- which is, after all, the front that matters most for 14-year-old girls raised on mass media -- Julie has fallen hard for a cute high school jock named Steve (Sean Faris). And, lucky her, the scavenger hunt demands that she get hold of a pair of his precious boxers. Inverting the Rapunzel plot, maybe, Julie indulges in some minor breaking and entering to accomplish her goal, whereupon she catches a glimpse of Steve preparing to shower. Focused on her appreciative look, the scene avoids showing what she sees, in accord with Sleepover's consistent attention to her desire and her energy.

In this context, the parents, the boys, and the rivals all serve one function, to showcase Julie's evolution during this special, if ridiculous, night. As a girls' movie, Sleepover is most effective when it focuses on Julie and Hannah's complex and recognizable friendship, in the throes of difficult change. But the movie is also relentlessly predictable. How about a girls' plot that doesn't include a dance, fancy dress and crown, and a kiss with Prince Charming?

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.