First feature film vehicle for Miss Britney Spears, released February 15, 2002. This flick actually was years in the making, or at least in development. Consider that Mandy Moore's A Walk to Remember premiered weeks before. Undoubtedly the teen queen must have been a bit perturbed that one of her imitators could slip in and steal her crossover box office crown. Though I suspect she has little to worry about.

In Miss Spears' first scene, she is dancing in her underwear singing Open Your Heart. For those of you without encyclopedic knowledge of Madonna, that was the video in which she did a platinum striptease for a little boy. In case you're wondering, Britney also appears in fancy lingerie, in a bikini, in a halter top reading "FREE DOM"... there was a plot to this thing, wasn't there?

Ah yes, it's coming back to me. Britney plays Lucy, valedictorian of her Georgia high school. At the well-meaning but mean behest of her father (a comically serious Dan Aykroyd), she always studied and never went to dances or had any fun. Any parent can guess some serious rebellion is brewing.

So she sets out on a road trip with her two estranged best friends from childhood: Kit, Miss Popularity, and Mimi, pregnant drunkard. The sexy convertible that takes them west to LA is unfortunately not driven by a gonzo journalist and his esteemed Samoan lawyer, but by a generic hunk who the girls believe to be a murderer (without a shred of evidence).

Britney tracks down her runaway mom (played by Kim Cattrall) in Arizona only to discover all her worst fears of abandonment were justified. I found this genuinely disturbing. And in case you're wondering, she actually can act. She certainly doesn't have the range of, say, Cate Blanchett, but she's entirely convincing when the whole enterprise can be tailored to her strengths (as opposed to her atrociously unfunny appearances on Saturday Night Live).

When they arrive in LA, Britney loses her virginity to the cute hunk and it must have been all she hoped for because there were palm trees.

What is truly intriguing is that Lucy begins this movie as a perfectly average nerd and ends it as Britney Spears, complete with record deal. The hunk wrote music for the poem she wrote herself, which turned out to be I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman which you can hear right now on pop radio. Yet you can't quite say that "reality" has swallowed "fiction" because no one believed that Britney's persona-- the sexiness or the innocence-- had anything to do with honesty in the first place.

Life Lessons that Britney taught me:

  • Louisiana does in fact have culture, in the form of karaoke.
  • Girls know more about cars than boys. Just trust them.
  • Sometimes boys throw tantrums. Wait it out. Eventually they will become horny again and do what you tell them.
  • The only extant forms of female bonding are singing along with Top 40 radio and weeping.
  • Pop = Rock and roll

Crossroads was a British soap opera that ran from 1964 to 1988, and in its day was very popular, and the main competitor to Coronation Street. Millions of people tuned in, for want of anything better to do, to watch the adventures in and around a motel in Birmingham called the Crossroads Motel. It starred many people, none of whom I have ever heard of.

There is a fan club website, but as it opens with (a) music, (b) frames, and (c) a flashing orange marquee on blue, I'm not going to tell you where it is. I just thought I ought to briefly mention the most famous Crossroads before moving on to the one I like.

'Crossroads' is possibly the saddest of all Don McLean's songs. It is fourth track on the 1971 album American Pie, which also contains the other contender for saddest Don McLean song, 'The Grave'. But it must be relatively easy to make sadness out of wars, gravestones, young men, and a few twangling guitar chords. I don't want to devalue 'The Ghost', but I don't think McLean tore his own heart out writing it, the way he must have with the vastly more personal 'Crossroads'.

The music is nothing but a slow piano, broken sounds.

It is bleak, not merely sad for the loss of a love, but peering deep into the singer's heart, and finding nothing. All that had ever been was nothing, nothing can be found, or remembered, or forgotten. It is like something out of Schubert's Winterreise, it is a plumbing of the artist's true heart, not a tale made up by the artist. And so long has he been without it, that he was lost the will for it. This is him, starved, a husk:

I've got nothing on my mind.

Yet, not without hope, not entirely. He doesn't know where it'll come from, but he hasn't lost the addressee's love yet. The situation is harder: he doesn't deserve it, he know he doesn't, he can't find anything in himself worth loving. Is it possible for the love of another person to reach in and find something where he can't?

Can you find my pain? Can you heal it?

If the beloved can respond, can reach in deeply enough, can believe in him despite all the emptiness, then they have a chance to walk together somewhere out of the darkness, as they had in their past, to find a goal. They managed it before, some unfathomably long time ago, it must seem to him:

As long as we could walk together.

So the song rises up, the bitterness of his present failure veiled in tears of hope for a future that might, just might, he believes so sincerely it might and must, come good if that one other person can love him and heal him: despite everything, despite their plans.

As with the ending of Winterreise, we see and feel with a ruined human being drawing close to annihilation, and we never do know whether the end will be good or bad.

Quoted portions of lyrics are about 10% of the total and should be fair use.

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