this is what lizzie mcguire taught us about teenage dreams

A shitty graduation! A popstar doppelgänger! A fleeting European romance! 15 years on, The Lizzie McGuire Movie is still the stuff dreams are made of.

by Douglas Greenwood
04 May 2018, 9:33am

As kids growing up in the early 2000s, didn’t we all find comfort in after-school television, cheap strawberry flavoured lip gloss, awful crushes and body shimmer from Boots? Lizzie McGuire, the star of her own eponymous Disney Channel TV series, was the archetypal American teenager who definitely had experienced all of those things too: self-deprecating, desperate to be liked by popular people, but ultimately too much of an awkward teen to ever be taken seriously.

Played by storied tween royalty Hilary Duff she was all of us, and we spent so much of the early 2000s watching her life go to shit in the silliest of ways. So when the news broke that a movie of her life was coming our way -- and that she’d be jetting off to bloody Italy! -- we could hardly wait. In May of 2003, The Lizzie McGuire Movie hit cinemas and dragged every teenager away from the TV to see their favourite star on the silver screen. While middle-aged, mostly male critics dragged it for filth, it still managed to pull in a cool $55 million at the box office. In retrospect, the film is a cacophony of geographical stereotypes, abhorrent outfits and improbable storylines, but it might just be one of the best films about teenage dreams ever made.

So for anybody who didn’t live through the heady experience of watching her life unfold, what’s The Lizzie McGuire movie about? Well, after making a right arse of herself at her junior high school graduation, tripping up on stage and tearing down the backstage curtain in front of an audience of hundreds, our favourite teen queen is whisked off to Rome on a class trip, presumably to escape the shame of it all. One afternoon at the famous Trevi Fountain, she’s suddenly accosted by a strange, handsome Italian man with floaty brown hair and some very on-trend blue tinted glasses. He’s a famous singer, and mistakes her for his pop star partner Isabella, who Lizzie somehow looks identical to. Suddenly, this 15-year-old American high schooler is madly in love, whizzing across Rome on a vespa, and is absconding her school outing to live a life of luxury and fame instead.

Before she became the coolest girl to ever set foot in Italy, Lizzie McGuire was the ultimate scapegoat. All of our most nightmarish teenage mishaps seemed to happen to her, like when her little brother Matt secretly recorded her singing in her room to Atomic Kitten’s The Tide is High, or when she asked her pestering mother for money to buy school supplies, only to be forced into revealing that she wanted to start wearing bras to fit in with the cool girl in school. But we loved her for it. Her deepest thoughts and slapstick life experiences were always marked by her famous animated internal monologue -- who obviously followed her to Italy to take part in the movie too.

15 years after it first bowed in cinemas, changing the course of adolescence forever, The Lizzie McGuire Movie is like a tacky teenage gem that existed in a time more innocent than the one we live in now. The idea of a major studio funding a film about a young girl pissing off to Rome to fall in love with a strange pop singer seems ludicrous, but back then that was all of our fantasies rolled into one. We all, at some point, felt like running away from home, breaking the rules and running into famous people and befriending them -- or better yet, sharing some sort of fickle teenage crush. “It really spoke to my deep seated tweenage ambition to become a popstar,” i-D’s Georgie Wright says. “Unfortunately that hasn't happened (yet), but you know, if Lizzie can do it, then there's hope for us all!”

As much as it feels like a fantasy come full circle, the story has a spanner in the works; one that would spawn one of the single greatest scenes in contemporary movie history. The internet would come to embrace -- no, adore -- the final showdown in The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Having fallen for Paolo, Lizzie is roped into performing at the Italian Music Awards (which, of course, take place in a coliseum), taking Isabella’s place after the original duo have a fall-out. But Paolo’s plans to sabotage Lizzie and Isabella, by proving the latter lip syncs backfire, when his own backing track fails and he’s booed off stage for not being able to hold a note. In his place, Lizzie and Isabella drop the most iconic collaboration ever staged in a historical piece of Italian architecture: an all-singing, all-dancing disco remix of What Dreams Are Made Of that would make Eurovision wince with its glorious campness. It was brilliant then, but now, it feels like a strange time capsule of what pop culture looked like in 2003. The song was abrasively cheesy ( “Yesterday my life was duller / Now everything’s… tech-ni-colour!”), the futuristic tin-foil outfits hideous, and the choreography so brilliant that it inspired the Lizzie McGuire Booty Shake viral video.

It was a move we had all done in our bedrooms lip syncing to Britney, but never, like Lizzie, in front of thousands of pop music fans. Her story, one of a high school outcast who’d transformed into an international pop superstar, is one rooted in struggle, climbing the social ladder, bedazzled pant suits and eventual victory, and we lapped it up every time it came on telly in the years after its release. When it first came out, there was nowhere for die-hard McGuire fans to discuss their love for the film, all we could do was obsess over it with the person sat next to us. Now, it seems like the internet is making up for lost time. It’s a place where Lizzie has gained new life among the teenagers who grew up watching her; where we can shake our booties to What Dreams Are Made Of once more.

lizzie mcguire
the 2000s
teenage dreams