When I watched "Mean Girls" I could not help but think juniors in high school have nothing on girls in junior high. Surviving eighth grade is the hard part for teenage girls, but at that age you still have to be driven by somebody to the movie theater, so Hollywood continues to aim for older adolescents. "Sleepover" is about junior high girls, although on the final day of junior high, as they are about to become freshmen. But while we once again have the clash between the girls who rule the school and those who aspire to such lofty positions, this is a film that emphasizes "cute" over "cruel."
Julie (Alexa Vega) is having a sleepover not only because it is the last day of school but also because her best friend Hannah (Mika Boorem) is moving away. Farrah (Scout Taylor-Compton) is coming as well, but Julie's former best friend Stacie (Sara Paxton), has moved on to be Queen Bee of the snooty girls and will not be attending. When Stacie and her pack of brats insult Yancy (Kallie Flynn Childress), Julie invites her to be the fourth. Stacie has a date to go to the high school dance with the second string quarterback in his sports car, but he is more interested in parking than in dancing, so Stacie decides it would be more worthwhile to crash Julie's sleepover and challenge the girls to a scavenger hunt. This will require Julie and her friends to break the rules laid down by her mom, Gabby (Jane Lynch), because they will have to leave the house. But at stake is the prime seating place for eating lunch in high school, and there is also a good-looking boy.
Now, if the most high and mighty junior high girls on the face of the Earth think they are going to get to sit in the best place at lunch in high school, then they have a rude awakening in store for them. But the idea of a privileged place is certainly going to resonate with young viewers (although an outdoor lunchroom is not really a part of our culture) and "Sleepover" is clearly intended as an adolescent fantasy. How else do you explain the interest of high school boys in under-aged girls (who manage to get into dance clubs) or why there are kings and queens named at end of the school year dances (or why anyone other than a senior would get the crown).
Ultimately, "Sleepover" is above Julie and her friends getting a boost of adolescent self-confidence that will allow them to survive the horrors of high school. Julie has an advantage in that Hannah is there to give her a push. Hannah has her act together in a way that Stacie and the others never will; you get the feeling Hannah could be Queen Bee but that the role never goes to anyone who would be a benevolent leader. Your tolerance for this film will have to do entirely with your ability to enjoy all the cuteness. But subtlety is often lost in such adolescent fare (and there is an unexpected "nude" scene), and if other films directed at the 'tween audience could follow in the wake of this one that would be a good thing. The problem of course is by the time a film like this gets made and ends up on DVD a leading girl like Vega is already beyond the 'tween stage and in danger of becoming another yet Lindsay Lohan or Hillary Duff and the vicious circle continues in terms of teenage movies. But hopefully the success of this film will engender more to follow, even if a new crop of young stars will need to be found for each one.
My biggest complaint with "Sleepover" is actually about the end credits. This is where we get to see photographs of the cast with their names. We get Alex Vega (Julie), Mika Boorem (Hannah), Jane Lynch (Gabby), Sam Huntington (Ron), the trio of Sara Paxton (Staci), Brie Larson (Liz), and Scout Taylor-Compton (Farrah), the duo of Douglas Smith (Gregg) and Katija Pevec (Molly), with Steve (Sherman) and Jeff Garlin (Jay). Left out are Kalie Flynn Childress as Yancy, who had more to do than the Stacie or Liz characters, Russell (Evan Peters) who had way more to do that Gregg, and Sean Faris as Steve, the boy toy in the bottom of the box is even further down. Here is this above average juvenile cast in a nice ensemble effort and suddenly at the end what becomes important are what their agents negotiated for their clients rather than what actually happens in the film. At least on the DVD you have a commentary track with director Joe Nussbaum and Vega, Boorem, Taylor-Compton and Childress giggling their way through the film to get you back to thinking happy thoughts about the movie.