Why ''Lizzie McGuire'' isn't subtle porn
Some advice: Don't try to start a conversation with the line ''I'm a 27-year-old man, and I really enjoyed 'The Lizzie McGuire Movie.''' Never mind the threat of arrest: Admitting to a more-or-less unironic enjoyment of a diversion designed specifically for tweens (the magic marketing word for the nebulous 8-to-14 demo) will net you nothing but suspicious looks.
And that's as it should be. I felt downright creepy at the public screening where I reviewed ''McGuire'' -- which is appropriate, as I'm a childless single man with a beard. Except for the fact that it's, y'know, my job, I've got no business screening a Hilary Duff opus at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, surrounded by people only recently licensed to handle board games with swallow-able tokens. I was undeniably out of my element -- but thanks to Ms. Duff and her team, it didn't matter.
Let me explain: ''Lizzie McGuire'' is a fizzy little kids' show about an average suburban junior-high girl with average suburban junior-high problems: Her feelings for her best guy friend are changing, she's worried about clothes and popularity, her brother's a brat, and so on. The series started on the Disney Channel and graduated to ABC's youth-heavy Friday night bloc, on the strength of strong ratings and tween appeal.
A movie followed, as Coke follows Pop-Rocks. Fifteen-year-old star Hilary Duff (who has an album and a clothing line due in the fall) is starting to outgrow her preteen origins. But if her cinematic debut is any indication, she's doing it gracefully. The secret of ''Lizzie'''s success is that it doesn't condescend to kids (or their parents -- there are some moments of true wit in the film), but it doesn't treat them like miniature adults, either.
As in any self-respecting wish-fulfillment flick, Lizzie gets to tour the adult world -- she's faced with dilemmas of ambition and the threat of betrayal. But even though she looks just as womanly as Britney Spears, Duff never invites a leer. Her coming-of-age issues are actually about coming of age -- not just, well, coming.
I know, it seems like I'm setting the bar awfully low. This is a kids' movie, after all -- should we praise children's entertainment simply for not being subtle porn? Yes. We're in an era when twentysomethings -- and even thirty- and fortysomethings -- are permitted a near-pedophilic interest in ''teen'' acts like Christina Aguilera and 'N Sync, under the rubric of Guilty Pleasures. (Those excommunicated priests weren't a cultural anomaly, you know.) One reason we have tween entertainment is because of a growing desperation to shield kids who are trying to memorize their first locker combination from an increasingly voyeuristic media machine.
And so, as ''Lizzie'' ages up and out, I offer this advice to future puveyors of tween-tertainment: Stay the course. The ''Lizzie'' movie depicts intelligent, if not infallible parents; authority figures who aren't perfect, but aren't stupid or evil either; and young adolescents with more than sex on their minds. And it's no cuter than it has to be. So there you go, that's my excuse for liking ''Lizzie McGuire.'' And by ''like,'' I mean like. Not LIKE like.