"BFF!" That's the chant of solidarity shared by multiethnic pals Cloe, Jade, Yasmin and Sasha, kindhearted teen fashionistas who pledge to remain "best friends forever" as they enter their freshman year at Carry Nation High. They share a passion for coordinating nail polish and lip gloss, and it seems there's no emotional crisis a credit card and a shopping spree at The Grove can't fix. That is until the first day of school, when they cross paths with Meredith, a nasty queen bee who files students like index cards into controllable cliques. This wealthy, spoiled daughter of the school's milquetoast principal even has a color-coded seating chart for lunch period.
Meredith sees the new girls' cheery resistance to compulsory tribalism as a threat to her system's delicate balance and is relieved when most of them get sucked into an existing subculture. Cloe's skill on the soccer field makes her an immediate hit with the "jockettes." Sasha has the moves and spirit to earn her a spot on the cheerleading squad. Jade's aptitude for math and science draws her toward the more academic crowd. And despite stage fright, Yasmin likes to sing. But since she isn't really adopted by anyone, she wanders around for the next two years wondering why her old friends no longer have time for her.
It's not until their junior year that the girls have a meltdown and ask, "What happened to us?" That's when they forge a fresh BFF pact and decide to follow their hearts rather than Meredith's charts. Spurned, the narcissistic mean girl uses any means necessary—from class envy to blackmail—to put these "bratz" in their place and get what she wants, including the grand prize at the school talent show.
The film and its heroines are named after a controversial line of dolls that, in recent years, has given Barbie a real run for her money. This live-action film is essentially a 111-minute commercial for the multibillion-dollar Bratz empire, which features everything from books and magazines to phones, make-up, video games and temporary tattoos.
Not nearly as slinky as the dolls that inspired them, the film's four central characters aren't hyper-sexualized. So the movie benefits dramatically from what isn't included. Romance is sweet and innocent as several girls develop attractions to decent, chivalrous boys.
The bratz value relationships and loyalty ("Friendship is a big deal"), condemn the clique mentality and decide to befriend everyone. Jade defends her brainy friends by saying, "They're not geeks; they're really interesting people," and further drives home the point that education matters by tutoring the football team. Late in the film, the girls generously provide makeovers for and boost the confidence of fashion-challenged people outside their individual social circles.
A music teacher reaches out to a frustrated deaf student, teaching him to feel beats and melodies. Words spoken in anger lead to fast apologies. The girls conclude that they can still be best friends and pursue separate interests—a healthy balance that eliminates jealousy and feelings of betrayal. Meredith is vilified for her egomania. A chain reaction of confessions in a crowded auditorium finds people taking off their social masks and embracing who they really are. Yasmin, Jade and Sasha secretly agree that, if they manage to win the grand prize at the talent show, they will give the prize—a full scholarship—to Cloe, who otherwise couldn't afford a college education.
The most pleasant surprise here is the film's respect for parents. Except for Jade being forced to wear awful plaid skirts to school, moms and dads aren't depicted as meanies with furrowed brows, or charming dolts who must be tolerated. They are supportive and loving, and have the esteem of their daughters. Cloe calls her mom her hero. A single mother, her mom works hard and dispenses sound advice when the girls have a spat. And it's a two-way street. When catering duties overwhelm Mom, Cloe and the others pitch in to help her out—a true act of humility and selflessness when they realize the party they're saving is a gala to which they intentionally were not invited.
Jade expresses love for her parents in a public setting, while Sasha defends hers after Meredith insults them. Meanwhile, Meredith's father pays a sweet compliment to his younger daughter upon realizing that she's hurt by the way her sister always hogs the spotlight. No word on Yasmin's folks, but she has a warm relationship with Bubbie, who is either her grandmother or a live-in housekeeper. And for every parent whose teen has expressed embarrassment about being dropped off at school in the family car, there's a cute shot of the über-cool, ready-for-action bratz arriving at the talent show (bathed in smoke and shown in silhouette) as they proudly emerge from Cloe's mom's minivan. Priceless.
Sasha's parents' divorce inspires positive messages as well, such as when she asks them to talk directly to each other, rather than using her as a buffer. Although Sasha likes getting "guilt certificates" from each that pay for an afternoon at the mall ("Divorce isn't all bad"), she's hurting from the situation and wishes they would work out their differences and get back together. [Spoiler Warning] By the end, they seem headed in that direction.
Meredith's little sister strikes a lotus position and chants, "Take me to the happy place." Partway through their talent show number, the bratz, who name their musical group the Bratz, are backed by a gospel choir.
Central to "bratitude" are clothing styles that stray into suggestive territory. Bare midriffs. Low-slung jeans. Short shorts and skirts. There's a shot of Meredith sunning herself in a bikini. One of the girls plans to wear an outfit with what she calls a "killer plunge" (presumably at the neckline). Yasmin's little brother thinks of himself as a Latin lothario, always scoping out girls and approaching them with sly propositions (not explicit).
A few dance moves have a mildly erotic feel, in part because they're backed by music with a similar vibe. Girls pride themselves on being "hot." A boorish jock offers himself to Jade, who isn't interested. Meredith kisses her boyfriend on the mouth. Another kiss gets interrupted, and there are several pecks on the cheek.
Jade's lab partner, Dexter, defends her honor against a rude football player by using martial arts moves to punch and pin him. Comic violence includes pratfalls and a food fight. Cloe wrestles an item of clothing away from a mall shopper.
Crude or Profane Language
After a few early exclamations of "oh my gosh," it seemed the dialogue might avoid directly misusing the Lord's name, but "oh my god" shows up a handful of times deeper into the film. Classmates and siblings toss insults at each other.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Jade's parents force her to wear square clothes, so she lives a double life, changing into more radical outfits between the sidewalk and the school doors. (Cloe, Yasmin and Sasha are in the habit of forming a huddle around her for "privacy.")
Characters fawn over MTV and its reality series My Super Sweet 16, while a pop song refers to Madonna, Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera as examples of pop music's elite. There's also a materialistic backbone to this bratty world. Rich girls shop like mad, live in fancy homes and drive expensive cars. Despite a well-intentioned United Nations approach to ethnic diversity, some stereotypical characters and situations reek of tokenism, especially in Yasmin's home.
Branding. That's the biggest problem with the PG-rated Bratz, a cheesy girl-power bauble packed with pro-social messages, including the suggestion that divorce may not be the healthiest course of action. Yet any parent who has browsed the doll aisle at Toys 'R' Us has to ask if those cinematic sermons are worth the price of warming tweens to Barbie's plastic rivals—a bling-draped, often immodest assortment of bedroom-eyed, midriff-baring divas with an Angelina Jolie pucker.
As a movie, Bratz falls apart at its fashionable seams due to predictable plotting, shallow dialogue, awkward performances and some groan-inducing contrivances. For example, Meredith blackmails Yasmin to keep the Bratz from competing in the talent show, threatening to expose a juicy tidbit about Cloe's family. Well, rather than discuss this setback with her pals (which would have thwarted Meredith's plot on the spot), Yasmin drops out of the show and leaves her friends in a lurch, saying it was a stupid act to begin with. Huh? That "noble" decision to remain silent and fall on her BFF sword leads to conflict, histrionics, angst and ... forgiveness! It's totally illogical and overly dramatic.
Indeed, anyone beyond the age of 12 will probably feel insulted by Bratz, with its frenetic, Nickelodeon-style antics (how do you not roll your eyes when a cart full of cream pies wanders into a food fight in a school courtyard?) and blatant "borrowing" from films such as Mean Girls and Legally Blonde. Conversely, anyone under 12 may leave the theater with the false impression that there's no substitute for individual expression—assuming that their personal style matches the fashion sported by slinky plastic dolls retailing for $12.99.