This cute-teen movie comes hot on the heels of Save The Last Dance, another sun-kissed, jeans-ad-style take on troubled youth, romance and race relations in America. Sure, from its grainy opening footage to Kirsten Dunst's just-so tousled hair, director John Stockwell bends over backwards to give his movie some semblance of authenticity with a capital A. Yet it still feels forced, even before he bottles out on the plot about halfway through.
That it gets anywhere at all is really down to the crack cast. Dunst plays little miss too-cool-for-school Nicole like some pint-sized emotional steamroller, with a jittery intelligence that makes you care, despite the by-the-book script. Alongside her, newcomer Jay Hernandez lends Carlos, her rock-solid Latino lover, an easy conviction that screams "dead-cert star". The early scenes paint a warmly affecting picture of their relationship, as well as Nicole's friendship with her mischievous best mate Maddy (Taryn Manning), and the Latino community's resentment of Dunst's rich white girl is subtly done.
But just as the wretchedly over-emphatic MOR soundtrack - watch out for the mushy David Gray sequence - and over-produced visuals throw the film's sincerity into doubt early on, it all becomes a bit of a lame-ass fairytale. Carlos is the dashing prince, and there's even a wicked stepmom in Courtney (Lucinda Jenney), Congressman Oakley's second wife. As for Nicole, well, she's predictably lumbered with some heavy emotional baggage which makes her behaviour that much easier to accept. Wouldn't you know: she just wants daddy's love after all.
Come the second half of the movie, cultural tensions all but disappear from the picture, giving way to typical teen-movie clichés. All that matters is Nicole and Carlos' big, big love, and if that means the Maddy character conveniently vanishes along the way, well, tough, she was too naughty. The film jumps through hoops to get things to a conservative close, dishing up dysfunctional teendom in a popcorn package. A bloodless Romeo&Juliet.