Back in 2001, Britney Spears and a bunch of other pop stars found themselves in a perilous position. 9/11 had devastated the American landscape and divided American culture. One side had had enough of the rise of bubblegum pop that emerged in the 90s, while the other embraced the escapism of the dance halls. Britney, who had started on the Disney channel, had built her image as a naughtily innocent school girl, safe enough to be consumed by tweens and risque enough for a more adult crowd.
In November 2001, Britney Spears dropped Britney, her self-titled album intended to mature her image from teen girl to adult woman. She was, after all, about to turn 21 and she can’t sell her image as a teenager forever. Britney included songs like I’m Not A Girl…Not Yet A Woman, and Overprotected, both wrestling with the ideas that she can do things on her own, but still seen as somebody incapable of living her life – a sentiment shared by tweens throughout the country.
To hammer home her incoming maturity, Britney created Crossroads, a movie that was aimed at her underage core audience but with the intent of foreshadowing her incoming image change. Crossroads was about a group of former childhood friends reconnecting as high school graduates to go on a cross-country road trip and deal with their childhood dreams. In its initial release, Crossroads was summarily dismissed by both male and female movie critics who were just as intent on dismissing Britney Spears as the movie itself. Subsequently, the movie became a treasure sought out by bad movie fans. But, is it as bad as they said? Or, was it merely not made for the critics?
I first watched this in a rented bad pop star double feature with Glitter. Glitter is a glorious bad movie with bad decisions made by everybody in the production at almost every single minute. It almost seems as if nobody involved with Glitter actually gave a flying fuck. But, to me and my female bad-movie-watching friend, Crossroads was just boringly awful. Bad acting, flat direction, and dull as dishwater. We had a bias going into the movie created by some fantastic trashings of the film, but were we wrong?
Normally, I wouldn’t revisit a movie like this. I remembered it as an excruciatingly dull experience with no consequence. Then I learned it was written by Shonda Rhimes (developed from Britney Spears’ idea) and was directed by Tamra Davis, who had previously made CB4 and Half Baked. (If I’m being truly honest, it was more the Shonda Rhimes connection). And, this time, I’d give the movie a fighting chance.
Before I go further, Tamra Davis’ direction is mostly terrible with fleetingly great scenes. The sound mix on the Netflix edition makes the dialogue exceedingly quiet, the acting is generally bad (even Zoe Saldana can’t save this thing), and most of the scenes (and most of the movie) have such an aimlessly leaden pace. There are also some major problems between content and target audience that prevent Crossroads from achieving the potential that is contained within Shonda Rhimes’ script. But, it is nowhere near as bad as I remembered.
At its heart, Crossroads is a warning movie about the perils of going after your dreams. Lucy (Britney), Mimi (Taryn Manning) and Kit (Zoe Saldana) are childhood friends who bury a time capsule containing their wordly dreams in the woods with the promise to dig it up at midnight on the day they graduate high school. Fast forward to graduation day, and the friends have separated and fallen into different, opposing, cliques. Britney is a chorus geek graduating as valedictorian. Kit is the most gorgeous girl in the world. Mimi lives on the wrong side of the tracks and is pregnant on graduation day. Distraught and lonely, Mimi pleads with her former friends to complete their pact and revisit their past.
In the box, Lucy buried a locket with a picture of her mom, who abandoned her when she was 3. Kit buried Bridal Barbie in the hopes of marriage. Mimi buried a Planet Earth keychain because she wanted to get out of their dead end town, and go to Los Angeles to dip her toes in the Pacific Ocean. Quickly, Mimi gets the group to go on a road trip with her and a hunky older guy who spent time in jail for, rumor has it, murder. And so starts the road trip formula.
Most road trip formulas have frequent stops that make situational metaphors of the various plot developments. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, for instance, stops at a town where their bus gets vandalized, covers up the vandalism, go to a rough town where violence breaks out, and find love and ping pong balls. Crossroads does no such thing. There are plenty of stops, but they’re mostly rather uneventful until the third act. At one point, the car breaks down causing Lucy to save the day by singing I Love Rock N Roll in a karaoke contest. But, mostly the stops are used for girl talk.
This movie talks. They talk and they talk. And, they talk some more. In a way, it’s almost like The Counselor in that most of the plot developments are actually told rather than shown. We’re told that Lucy’s mom left when she was 3 and that she resents her father for pushing her so hard and making her miss out on high school’s usual events. We’re told that Kit’s mother made her go to fat camp because having a fat daughter was unacceptable, but now her mother is jealous that Kit is the more beautiful one. We’re told that Mimi’s baby is the result of a holiday party rape she never told anybody about. We’re told that the older guy is frustrated at having to be on a road trip with three girls and hates the idea of them driving his car. These pit stop conversations are what retie the trio together and fill most of the run time.
The one time we make an action-filled stop is when the car breaks down. They radiator breaks, and Lucy has to sing to make the money to fix the car. Kit demands they sex up their image before Lucy gets the whole bar to chime in on her breathy version of I Love Rock N Roll (appearing on the Britney album). While dancing at the bar, a preppy frat boy dances with Lucy but gets a bit handsy (read: sexually assaults her and doesn’t take no for an answer), causing her to be rescued by the older guy. In the hotel room, the driver tells Lucy “I’m not angry at you for what happened tonight” before storming out of the room for the night. WHAT?! NO.
The third act systematically destroys their childhood dreams, causing me to wonder if Britney wasn’t being self-reflexive on her disappointment with superstardom. Lucy meets her mom (Kim Catrell), who has remarried and had two kids. Subsequently, Mom rejects Lucy while telling her that she was an unwanted pregnancy. Kit discovers her boyfriend is a serial cheater who also raped and impregnated Mimi. Mimi falls down the stairs and loses the baby. Mimi’s dream was to get a recording contract, but Lucy is the one who sings in the contest instead (I’m Not a Girl…Not Yet a Woman). In summary, your childhood dreams suck and it might be best to bury them and move on. Simultaneously, you and your friends need to stick together.
That’s a pretty bold statement with a lot of mature content for a movie aimed at 11/12-year olds. And, it’s here where I acknowledge I’m lost. The second scene of Crossroads is a callback to Risky Business. Britney pops in scene wearing a bra and a pair of Y-fronts while lip syncing Madonna’s Open Your Heart. Open Your Heart was the song where Madonna was a peep show stripper with a young boy infatuated by her naked posters. It’s a bold statement about possessing sexuality in a masculine way…until she stops and puts on a pair of Fleece print pajama pants. The pants are comfort based, but they’re also somewhat infantilizing. Much like the song “Not a Girl, Not Yet A Woman,” Crossroads frequently teeters between childishness and rampant adulthood.
The character arcs in Crossroads are about self-possession, but they’re very weak developments at that. Kit dumps her fiance, Lucy performs in the song contest, and Mimi…well…she’s Mimi. Similar to Risky Business and American Pie, the intent is for the teenage characters to learn and grow through their trials and come out more mature on the other side. But, Crossroads makes these statements with a far softer touch than either of the other two. The three girls rebury their childhood box on a beach, not knowing when they would recover their dreams.
And, it’s in these last two paragraphs that I must acknowledge that I am not the audience for this movie. I don’t know if the movie actually reads as infantilizing and immature but dealing with mature subject matter. I’m not sure if the ending reads as a strong statement of growing up to a tween audience. Most of the women I know were too old for this movie when it came out, and so think the movie wasn’t good at all. I’m leaning toward the idea that the movie isn’t terrible, it’s just not made for people who were my age or older at the time.