When one allows their mind to drift to singer-turned-actresses of
the past, nightmares usually follow, with images of Madonna in 2000's
"The Next Best Thing" and Mariah Carey in 2001's "Glitter." Recently,
Mandy Moore has had surprising success with "A Walk to Remember,"
and Britney Spears follows her lead with "Crossroads," a coming-of-age
tale directed by Tamra Davis (2000's "Skipped Parts") that is better
than it has any right to be. Touching on such heavy topics as uncertain
futures after high school, fidelity, teen pregnancy, parental abandonment,
and date rape, the movie tends to pile too many "serious issues"
on its plate at times, yet remains fairly light, always entertaining, and smartly written.
As children, three best friends buried a box of items that had personal
meaning to them in the woods, vowing to dig it up on their high school
graduation day. With time, people change, and as 18-year-olds, unpopular,
virginal valedictorian Lucy (Britney Spears), snooty Kit (Zoe Saldana),
and outsider Mimi (Taryn Manning) have gone their separate ways. Feeling
a duty to fulfill their vow, digging the box up floods them with fond
memories and unspoken regret.
When Mimi, who is pregnant, proposes that Lucy and Kit join her on
a journey from their hometown in Georgia to Los Angeles so that she
can get a singing audition, they both agree to. After all, Kit's scumbag
fiance is currently attending UCLA, and Lucy wants nothing more than
to see her mother (Kim Cattrall), a woman who abandoned Lucy and her
father (Dan Aykroyd) fifteen years ago. The girls get a ride from
Mimi's mysterious, handsome, and older friend, Ben (Anson Mount),
whom Lucy is instantly attracted to. The simple trip soon turns into
one of self-discovery, bonding, and emotional catharsis.
Written by Shonda Rhimes, "Crossroads" is an often incisive, sporadically
schmaltzy comedy-drama that leaves no cliche of the "road movie" genre
unturned. From the busted radiator the car gets in Louisiana, to the
girls' last ditch effort to win some money at a karaoke contest, to
the predictable feuding over the radio station, it is all here in
its well-worn glory. What transcends these tired genre staples is
the fair, well-rounded treatment of the characters. The issues and
problems they face, both in their relationships and in their own shaky
futures, is written with a lovely deftness that makes the people involved
seem like real ones.
One of the most pleasant surprises of "Crossroads" is how very natural
and likable Britney Spears is as an actress. Avoiding the Mariah Carey
curse of bad acting from last year, Spear has a warm screen presence
that is utterly fetching, and she tests out her dramatic skills with
poignant results in two key sequences. For Spears, this is a job well
done; if she wants one, she definitely has what it takes to have a future in film.
Surrounding Spears are a respectable group of young performers. Zoe
Saldana (2000's "Center Stage") nicely develops her initially bitchy
role of Kit into someone who doesn't really like who she has become,
and Taryn Manning (2001's "crazy/beautiful") solidly underplays Mimi,
who is sometimes too soft-spoken and weak to do the things she believes
in. As Lucy's love interest, Ben, Anson Mount (2000's "Urban Legends:
Final Cut") has a rugged, alluring quality that fulfills the requirements
of his relatively thankless part. Finally, Justin Long (2001's "Jeepers
Creepers") has a few funny moments as Lucy's nerdy lab partner from
high school, and steals the scenes he is in.
The parts that work in "Crossroads" work extremely well. A car-ride
sing-along to "If It Makes You Happy," by Sheryl Crow, is invigorating
in its sheer joyfulness, and a scene following Lucy's disappointing
encounter with her mom is genuinely powerful, thanks to Spears' performance.
The way that Spears' current single, "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,"
is incorporated into the story also feels fresh and original.
The crucial sequence where Lucy confronts her mom, played in a shallow
part by Kim Cattrall (TV's "Sex and the City"), is disappointingly
handled, cutting off before the scene feels finished. Director Davis
also has trouble ending the picture, tidying things up too neatly,
and in an unbelievable manner, just to have a happy ending. Still,
"Crossroads" will likely stand as Britney Spears' introduction into
a successful future career as an actress, and the movie is entertaining
enough, and thoughtful enough, to earn such a positive distinction.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman