OPINION COLUMNS

Feel free to sleep through ‘Sleepover,’ you’re not missing much

By David Talley | Published Saturday, November 26, 2016
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Winter is just about here. The days are getting shorter and colder, and we’re all spending more time inside with the TV on.

“Sleepover” vs. “3,000 Miles to Graceland”

And like every year, TV stations will inevitably start airing more movies to help us pass the cold hours. While many of these are quality films, you’re bound to find a few stinkers. In the weeks leading up to this column, Racey and I scoured the Internet for as many of these as we could find, searching through IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes lists of the worst rated movies of each of the preceding decades. The 1980s topped this list, with more than 100 movies deemed “awful,” followed by the 2000s, which also had its share of terrible films. Of these, each of us selected one film from our family’s home DVD cabinet to swap and review.

While I lent her the casino heist movie “3000 Miles to Graceland,” rated 14 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, she lent me the middle school coming-of-age comedy “Sleepover,” rated 15 percent fresh. If you see either of these listed on your TV directory, you’ve been advised to steer clear.

Initial thoughts – I didn’t like this movie. It came out in 2004 and had a significant number of quality actors who were just waiting for their big break. Jane Lynch (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” 2005), Steve Carell (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” 2005), Evan Peters (“American Horror Story,” 2011) and Brie Larson (“Short Term 12,” 2013) all star in this train wreck, and thanks to this movie, I’ll have to look at them all a little different now.

Synopsis (spoilers) – I shouldn’t have to stipulate this part contains plot spoilers, but I’ve seen people get upset over a lot less. Julie, an eighth-grader played by a slightly more grown up Alexa Vega of Spy Kids fame, is upset because her best friend, Hannah, is moving away, leaving her socially unprepared for high school. She hosts a sleepover party and invites Hannah and two other friends, including the wildly-unpopular Yancy, to attend.

Julie’s former friend, Staci, stops by to challenge the group to a scavenger hunt on behalf of the popular girls. The winners will earn the right to sit at the lunch table by the fountain in high school, while the losing team has to sit near the dumpsters with other social rejects.

Hannah takes up the challenge as a way to help Julie adapt to high school life without her. It’s a daunting task for the shy, sheltered group, but they persevere, finishing the contest in a dead tie with the popular girls.

At the high school dance, the groups agree on a tie breaker – securing the homecoming king or queen’s crown, which is to be awarded that night. A random high schooler Julie encounters throughout the movie is awarded the crown, and he picks Julie as a dance partner, giving her the crown and the scavenger hunt win.

What doesn’t work – Like, everything. The tired clich s: “Ugh, my parents don’t understand me.” There is predictable, stale dialogue, a hole-filled plot, poor music choices and general lack of substance. I’ll concede this movie was marketed toward young viewers who may not be such harsh critics, but come on. We owe our kids better movies than this. The greatest disservice is done to Yancy, the slightly-overweight girl who is a last-minute invitation to the sleepover.

While the group is especially nice to her, the film’s writers aren’t. She’s a good character. She borrows a car and drives the group around for the scavenger hunt and sacrifices her own chances at romance for the good of the group. In return, she’s omitted from the DVD case’s cover, which instead includes Staci, the film’s antagonist.

Equally upsetting is Yancy’s exit from the film. She’s distraught to learn she was a substitute invite to the party after Staci declined to attend, only feeling better after getting to dance with a slightly-overweight boy, because for some reason that’s what is supposed to solve this problem. Julie even has a line in the movie about how “there’s someone for everyone.”

Female movie characters shouldn’t depend on men to make them happy; it’s not the best lesson to teach to young girls.

What I do like – The overall tone of the movie is OK. The dynamic between Julie and Hannah is good, if under-played. Hannah works hard to make sure her best friend will be taken care of in the all-important high school social circle after she’s gone, which is admirable.

I recently watched “Hell or High Water,” a 2016 movie already expected to pick up several major awards. In the movie, Ben Foster’s character works hard to make sure his younger brother’s family will taken care of after he’s gone. It’s a good theme and could have been pulled from more in “Sleepover.”

Julie’s brother Ren, a college dropout who is now living at home again, is a relatable character. He returns home to find his high school glory days are long gone. His friends have graduated and left town. His parents have taken over his bedroom, converting it to a yoga studio and crafting area.

His primary role through the film is to hang out with the family’s dog, eat pizza and distract his parents from Julie’s activities. This I can identify with. Of the film’s plethora of terrible lines, Ren gets the good ones. After covering for his sister, he gives some advice:

“I’m freaking exhausted. I need to go back to college and get some rest. Go be a teenager. It ends too soon. And it gets replaced by ribbons and lampshades.”

I feel that. Ren may have helped save his sister from parental wrath, but he can’t save this movie. If you haven’t seen it, go watch “Hell or High Water.”

David Talley is a Messenger reporter.

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