There’s a lot of reasons why a movie might become a guilty pleasure. Often times, it’s because the film is technically terrible and yet still, for whatever reason, it’s fun. And then sometimes, it’s because the film was made at a different time and, as a result, our modern cultural overlords demand that we dislike it regardless of how much we may also enjoy it.
And then there are films that you literally feel guilty for owning, watching, and sometimes enjoying. These are the films that you always find yourself making excuses for owning, Whenever I let anyone know that I have 2003’s From Justin To Kelly on DVD, I always make sure to point out that I also own the Criterion edition of Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game and several films directed by Werner Herzog.
“Don’t judge me!” I shout, as my guests stare down at Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini’s retouched smiles beaming at them from the cover of From Justin To Kelly, “I actually do have good taste….”
And, if worst comes to worst, I just tell them that it was a gift from an old boyfriend who, just two days after giving me the DVD, was tragically killed while doing charity work in Vermont. “The enemy is hunger…not the hungry!” I say and, while they sagely nod in agreement, I always push the DVD to the side.
However, the fact of the matter is that I do own From Justin To Kelly and I actually have watched it more times than I’m willing to admit. It’s difficult for me to explain why. It’s not that From Justin To Kelly is a good film. There’s a lot of people who claim that From Justin To Kelly is one of the worst films ever made and, while I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s hard to deny that the film really is pretty terrible.
From Justin To Kelly, of course, is the American Idol film. By coming in first and second at the end of Idol‘s first season, Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini were contractually obligated to appear in a movie that would be written by Kim Fuller, the brother of Idol‘s producer. From Justin To Kelly was quickly written and filmed so that it could both appear in theaters and be released on video before the start of Idol‘s second season. If From Justin To Kelly had been a success, I imagine that all future American Idol winners and runner-ups would have been forced to appear in similar films. And I have to admit that it’s kind of disappointing that From Justin To Kelly was not a success because I would have loved to have seen a beach movie starring Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee.
However, From Justin To Kelly was not a success. In fact, it was such a failure that the producers of Idol decided to give up on movies and instead concentrate on doing what they’re good at — i.e., neutering otherwise interesting singers by forcing them to sing ballads written by Kara DioGuardi. For the most part, the only time that you hear about From Justin To Kelly is when Kelly Clarkson talks about how much she hated making it.
(Reportedly, Kelly spent hours sobbing after reading the script.)
As for the film itself, it’s a romantic comedy musical beach party movie sort of thing. Texas-born Kelly Clarkson plays Kelly, a girl from Texas. Pennsylvania-raised Justin Guarini plays Justin, a guy who was raised in Pennsylvania. Kelly is a waitress who gets dragged down to Florida for Spring Break by her friends, Alexa (Katharine Bailess) and Kaya (Anika Noni Rose). (Bailess and Rose deliver their lines in the least convincing Texas accents ever. However, since Kelly won American Idol and is very much a Texan, her movie friends had to be Texan too.) Justin, meanwhile, is the “King of Spring Break,” which is odd since he and his friends Brandon (Greg Siff) and Eddie (Brian Dietzen) host parties that feel like they’d be more appropriate for a church camp. (Then again, maybe Justin was meant to be the King of Bad Spring Break. Maybe, if Idol had continued to make movies, Adam Lambert would have eventually gotten to play the King of Good Spring Break.)
Anyway, Kelly and Justin eventually meet. Justin likes Kelly. Kelly thinks he’s a player. Justin’s like, “No, I’m not a player.” Kelly’s like, “Okay, I guess we can be in love.” But then Alexa decides that, no, Kelly and Justin should not be in love and, whenever Justin tries to text Kelly, Alexa texts back that Kelly’s not interested. And, meanwhile, Kaya falls in love with a surly busboy (Jason Yribar), Brandon keeps getting ticketed by the same policewoman, and Eddie keeps failing to hook up with a girl that he met online. Because, you know, the kids are so crazy with their text messages and their online dating and their … busboys.
(Seriously, did From Justin To Kelly really warrant that many subplots?)
During the whole time, everyone keeps singing songs and breaking out into choreographed dance numbers on the beach. The film’s director, Robert Iscove, also did She’s All That and From Justin To Kelly at times feels as if it’s just a 80 minute version of She’s All That‘s prom dance-off, except in this case it’s performed by people who really can’t dance.
And yet, I’m going to take a minute to defend From Justin To Kelly. While it’s true that the film’s songs don’t have anything to do with the film’s plot and they all lean a bit towards the vapid side, it’s also true that a few of them are catchy. One reason why Kelly Clarkson is one of the few Idol winners to actually make a career for her outside of Idol is because she can make almost anything sound good. For that matter, Justin Guarini is a far better singer than most people seem to remember him as being. While it is true that, judging from their work here, neither Kelly or Justin can act, they’re both likable. (Unfortunately, they also have next to no chemistry. I was actually surprised to learn that Kelly and Justin apparently dated while making From Justin To Kelly because, for the most part, they both look terrified whenever they actually have to kiss on camera.)
From Justin To Kelly also has a massive nostalgia value. After so many seasons and so many forgettable winners, it’s easy to forget about what a big deal American Idol was during that first season. I was 16 years old and I watched every episode and I got so emotionally involved in who was staying and who was going home. Today, it seems incredibly silly that a movie would have been a part of Idol but, back then, it made total sense. (That said, I know a lot of people who loved the first season of American Idol but I don’t know anyone who actually saw From Justin To Kelly in a theater.)
But, ultimately, I think the main reason why From Justin To Kelly remains an oddly fascinating bad film is because it takes place in a world that has absolutely nothing in common with the real world. Nobody at Spring Break acts anything like any of the characters to be found in From Justin To Kelly. Imagine a Spring Break where no one touched liquor, no one did drugs, and no one got laid. Imagine a Spring Break where college students danced on the beach while wearing the most modest of bathing suits and flashing the most eager and innocent of smiles. Even the film’s whipped cream bikini contest feels oddly chaste. From Justin To Kelly might as well be science fiction and it’s just so odd to watch.
As you watch, you can not help but imagine how the people involved with both Idol and the film reacted to it all. It’s actually fun to try to imagine what the cast talked in between shooting scenes. Did they spent their time laughing at how bad the movie was going to be or did they try to fool themselves into thinking that it would all be okay? (I’ve been involved in some bad community theater productions, which is what From Justin To Kelly resembles. I know how darkly humorous thinks can get back stage as people try to come to terms with what’s happening.) You watch and you ask yourself, “Did Kim Fuller actually think this is how American teenagers act when there’s no adults around?” Even more fun, you can try to imagine what Randy, Paul and Simon said when they first saw the film. I imagine it when something like this:
“Yo dawg, that was just alright for me, I don’t know, man, that was strange. Paula?”
“Argle bargle margle largle. Simon?”
“It was rather like watching a small parakeet attempt to eat a 60 year-old man…”
And, as such, From Justin to Kelly remains a pleasure of mine.
It’s just one that I feel guilty about admitting to.
Previous Guilty Pleasures
- Save The Last Dance
- Every Rose Has Its Thorns
- The Jeremy Kyle Show
- Invasion USA
- The Golden Child
- Final Destination 2
- The Principal
- The Substitute
- Terror In The Family
- Keep Off The Grass
- Girls, Girls, Girls
- King Kong vs. Godzilla
- Hawk the Slayer
- Battle Beyond the Stars
- Walk of Shame