As anyone who's stumbled across Radio Disney or reruns of That's So Raven can attest, an entire alternate entertainment universe exists for the amusement of young adolescents and those who aspire to someday become young adolescents. Occasionally, this universe crosses over into entertainment the rest of us enjoy, belching up a Hilary Duff or a Shia LeBeouf or an Olsen Twins movie, but mostly, it keeps to itself. Sleepover, for example, may open in theaters next to Spider-Man 2 and Anchorman, but chances are that anyone over the age of 15 doesn't even know it exists.
That's as it should be. A film custom-made for viewers for whom kissing boys is only a theoretical possibility, Sleepover takes place over a long, hectic night in which four girls celebrate their junior-high graduation with a sleepover. But what begins in makeovers and Spice Girls singalongs quickly escalates into a high-stakes scavenger hunt, as a group of more popular girls challenges the foursome for the right to have lunch at a coveted spot near their school's fountain. Spy Kids veteran Alexa Vega leads the underdogs, whose ranks include a soon-to-depart best friend (Mika Boorem) and a none-too-confident overweight girl (Kallie Flynn Childress). The latter casting decision might count as progressive thinking, if Sleepover didn't make constant reference to her weight, then let her friend's advice to find a boy who "likes cupcakes, too" stand as the final word on the subject.
That points to the problem at Sleepover's heart: It buys into the caste system it ostensibly flouts. Vega's quest is as much about ensuring status and acquiring a cute boyfriend as it is about completing stupid goals. For all this After Hours-for-kids' attempts at manic energy, it's really about finding a way into the status quo, a message that's not exactly hard to find already. Still, it might be better for kids to have a film that speaks at their level than one that talks down to them, à la Mean Girls. Or maybe it's best to let kids figure it out for themselves. A few recognizable grownups appear in Sleepover, including Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin, who spends most of the film ignoring his daughter and her friends, working instead on a plumbing project. That seems like the right idea.