Saturday, September 29, 2012

Charles...Why are You Watching the Disney Channel?: "Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars" (2010)



Jennifer Stone breaks the shackles of second bananadom on the Disney Channel's "Wizards of Waverly Place" but is locked into a lackluster made-for-cable television movie that does nothing to show off her comedic skills.

Based on the popular series of books (which generated a film in 1996 with Michelle Trachtenberg, released by Disney's nemesis Nickelodeon), Harriet Welsch (Jennifer Stone) plans to be a writer. To get to that goal, she observes (some would say stalks) people, listening in on their conversations (again, some would say stalk), and writing down the mundane details of other's lives. Harriet fills composition books with "observations," at the encouragement of her nanny, Golly (a pretty good Kristin Booth). Harriet's parents are too busy with their lives; Dad (Doug Murray) is a film producer, and Mom (Shauna MacDonald, who looks like she could be Annette Bening's sister) is a serial community volunteer.

Harriet's teacher Ms. Elson (Jayne Eastwood) decides to pick the class blogger for the year by having regular blogger/uberbitch Marion (Vanessa Morgan) compete with Harriet for the honor. Good thing Harriet's dad happens to be producing the sequel to the hit film "Spy Teen" starring heartthrob Skander Hill (Wesley Morgan). Marion and her pack of mean girls are huge fans, and after Harriet's first few observational posts bomb, she decides to show the class what a jerk Skander is. Complications follow, as Harriet begins stretching the truth about her relationship with Skander, and as her popularity grows, her friendships plummet.

On the sitcom "Wizards of Waverly Place," Stone plays Harper, the crazy best friend to teen wizard Selena Gomez. Yes, the show is putrid, but Stone always manages to get at least one laugh while stealing her scenes (much like Sterling Knight and Tiffany Thornton in the even worse "Sonny With a Chance"...but I digress). Here, Stone's Harriet is the complete opposite of Harper, and Stone seems uncharacteristically restrained. Harriet, and most of the rest of the cast save for Golly, are not very likable, and this has a huge impact on the viewer.

While the script does score points for taking jabs at mediocre film making and turning "art" into a product (how did anyone at the Disney Channel approve those lines?), there are some overly serious moments here that had me thinking the topic of teen suicide was going to rear its ugly head. This does not take away from the tone, because the film is so laugh free you will not mistake this for a comedy. The screenwriters boldly lift from "Mean Girls," without hesitation or embarrassment. Ron Oliver's direction is bland, although he sure likes that dolly shot right up to the face of the director of "Spy Teen 2: The Sequel" (he uses it twice).

"Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars" plays like an abandoned series pilot. The cast and writing are awkward and mawkish, and everyone flounders. Jennifer, my darling, go back to what you know on "Wizards," hone your craft, and for God's sake, make that all-out big screen comedy the minute your contract is up! (*) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars