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Dirty Sweet: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Britney

We now confront a world where Britney Spears is both a successful recording artist and a movie starlet. Jump in, the water's warm.

11:01 PM, Feb 26, 2002 • By MATT LABASH
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AROUND THESE PARTS, the complaint heard most often from readers of America's premier journal of conservative political thought is: "Why don't you have more coverage of teen queens and pop princesses?" It's a fair question, one that prompted me recently to head to my local multiplex to catch the movie debut of Britney Spears--the undisputed queen of pop princesses--in her new film, "Crossroads."

As MTV viewers are well aware, Britney is "not a girl, not yet a woman." She sings as much in the movie's theme song/companion video. Since my wife often notes that in both word and deed, I'm not a boy, not yet a man, I seemed a perfect draw for this assignment.

Traditionally, Spears has staked a constituency among two demographic groups: female 'tweens (not an elementary schooler, not a teenager) and older, lustier males (not ethically unimpeachable, not in jail). For this latter group, the release of "Crossroads" is something of a holy day, rivaled perhaps only by December 2, 1999 (the day Britney made everyone's impure thoughts legally acceptable by turning eighteen).

So as not to be lumped in with these wankers, I hauled along my 10-year-old niece. On the car-ride over, she thanked me for bringing her, but put me on notice that the "cool kids" in her class hadn't been into Britney in about a year. Neither did they give much truck to Christina Aguilera, the Backstreet Boys, or "N'Stink," as she now calls them. As for 98 Degrees, she wasn't even certain "if they still make CDs, they're like, out." Instead, she listens to what any self-respecting white girl who goes to an exclusive private school and takes horseback riding lessons would listen to: gangster rap. It hits her where she lives.

Still, she was eager for a retro walk down memory lane--back to when she was 9. And I was eager to watch Britney dance on her bed in seductively snug panties while singing Madonna songs, as she does rather skillfully in the film's first few minutes. From there, things fall off dramatically. "Crossroads" is the story of three childhood friends who've grown apart, but who come back together for a post high-school graduation cross-country road trip. Each of them has their own cross to bear. Mimi has a scummy boyfriend. Kit is knocked up and unmarried. Lucy (Britney) has a father played by Dan Aykroyd. But they overcome these obstacles to light out in the inevitable yellow convertible, driven by Ben, a hooligan with a heart of gold, who is beyond cool, which we can tell by the wool ski-cap he insists on wearing in the middle of June.

From there, the rest of the film is a blur of Herbal Essence product placements (Britney is paid big bucks to get the urge to go Herbal), Waffle House feasts, spontaneous outbursts of song, silly girl talk, premature yet tastefully considered sexual relations, and some mature language. (Britney evidences her acting chops by convincingly breaking up a catfight, saying, "I'm so sick of this arguing, bitching, and fighting every damn second of the day!" Not a girl, indeed.)

As road movies go, "Crossroads" is no "Easy Rider" (come to think of it, "Easy Rider" was no "Easy Rider" either). Actually it's downright bad, but in a harmless, forgivable sort of way. In fact, "Crossroads" isn't even the worst movie named "Crossroads." (That honor belongs to the 1986 offering that featured Ralph Macchio as an aspiring blues singer.) When the lights came up, my thugged-out niece was even back on Team Britney. And I must admit that compared to other crossover film imposters (Cindy Crawford in "Fair Game," Mariah Scarey in "Glitter," Madonna in everything she's ever done), Britney looked downright Oscar-ly.

Sure, she tends to subscribe to the whispery Tori Spelling school of Acting: If you're going to act badly, do so quietly. But she was effective at essentially playing herself. Which brings us back to square one. "She's not a girl, she's not a woman, what is she?" I asked my niece. "A S-L-U-T," she replied in a brief relapse of player-hating.

This unfair charge, of course, has been the locus of most Britney-bashing, in everything from rap songs to I-hate-Britney websites. The Star this week reports that after saying she'd remain a virgin, she shacked up with 'N Sync boyfriend Justin Timberlake. Numerous reports have claimed she had her breasts augmented. And one reporter claims to have overheard the formerly chaste 20-year-old teen queen say that chocolate for her is "just like an orgasm" (in fairness to Britney, the reporter was British).