UK-based writer Joshua Tonks attended a *recent*, one-time screening of 'Crossroads.' He submitted a thought piece about the immersive experience, which you may read below:
“I used to think I had the answers to everything, but now I know that life doesn’t always go my way. Feels like I’m caught in the middle. That’s when I realize, I’m not a girl. Not yet a woman. All I need is time, a moment that’s mine and while I’m in between. I’m not a girl...”
Upon hearing those words, spoken aloud in a movie theatre for the first time in almost fifteen years, I couldn’t help but think of the polarizing nature of Britney Spears.
As part of the London Short Film Festival, the Picturehouse Central, a movie theatre in the middle of London’s West End, had decided to show (of all things) 2002’s Britney vehicle, Crossroads. Not only that, but the movie’s director, Tamra Davies, was coming along to do a post-show Q&A. Needless to say, I was there in a heartbeat.
The room was barely at quarter capacity, but as my friend went to get us drinks, I was drawn in by the conversation between the two men a couple of rows in front. Both white, late-twenties, probably (obviously) gay. They were discussing Britney’s acting work to date: Will & Grace, How I Met Your Mother, Glee, and although I had to bite my tongue when they mentioned “her new face” on Jane the Virgin, I was put at ease. This was a room of fans.
My friend returned and, after a short introduction, the movie began...
Watching Crossroads through adult eyes was a very different experience to watching it as a twelve year old. As a kid, I was obsessed with Britney’s voice and so any time she sang, whether it be in the car to *NSYNC’s ‘Bye Bye Bye’ or around the piano to ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’, I was hooked.
In 2017, at the Picturehouse Central, in the middle of London’s West End, those scenes were actually met with quite a bit of laughter. Not mean-spirited laughter -- a little embarrassed, maybe -- but warm, and sweetly nostalgic. Much like the film itself.
At the time, Crossroads was panned by critics, often spoken in the same breathe as Mariah Carey’s Glitter. It won Worst Actress and Worst Original Song at the Golden Raspberry Awards, as well being called a “trainwreck” and “contrived and lazy” by the press.
What I find interesting is that if Britney Spears had not starred in this movie, it would not have received even half the amount of negative attention it did. I mean, let’s check those receipts: You’ve got a stellar supporting cast, comprised of Zoë Saldana, Taryn Manning, Anson Mount and Justin Long, as well as star cameos from Dan Aykroyd and Kim Cattrall.
You’ve got an entirely female team; three female leads, a female writer, a female director, a female producer. In the present day where female employment in Hollywood is a hot button topic, I’m surprised Crossroads isn’t lauded for its progressive qualities.
After the film ended, and met with a raptuous applause (started by me), we were introduced to the film’s director, Tamra Davies.
I was initially worried that Davies would be precious and would want to talk about things other than just Britney Spears, but straight up she made it clear that this was Britney’s movie.
“That face! That body!” she exclaimed almost immediately, when asked how she felt having not watched the movie in almost ten years. Same Tamra. Same.
When approached to do Crossroads, Davies immediately declined, but upon meeting Spears, was struck by how charming and dedicated she was towards the picture.
“I have to do it, I need to it” Spears had said, and so Davies was won over.
Davies commented that Spears was never a classic beauty, but that there was “something about her”, and because Spears had never acted before, if she could capture “that girl. That cute and funny Southern charm” then they would have a film. She went on to say that the film, in fact, works for that very reason.
At the time, much was made of Spears’ alleged virginity and whilst Davies was given creative freedom, there was talk from producers that the scene where Spears’ character, Lucy, has sex, should be cut. Both Spears and Davies were adamant that it stayed.
“It was a vehicle for her to comment on her virginity, on her womanhood. Britney commissioned the script. The sex was important.” said Davies.
When asked about Justin Timberlake, Davies spoke briefly about how cute they were as a couple and how silly she found the whole virginity thing, because she would come to Britney’s hotel room and her and Justin would be in bed together.
But the sex wasn’t all of it. What Spears really wanted to tell was the story of three friends, much like the real friends in her life.
“In the karaoke scene, Britney did her own hair” laughed Davies, much to the amusement of the audience. When asked by Davies what she had done, Spears responded, “I just wanted it to be rock ‘n’ roll!”
Davies went on to say how, surprisingly, Spears was very much in control of the picture from start to finish.
“But I don’t wear sweats” said Spears one day, only to be reminded by Davies, “No, but Lucy does.”
When it came to the Q&A section of the talk, I commented on how interesting it was that during the corny “poem” scenes, people laughed, but in the bathroom scene when Lucy breaks down after being rejected by her estranged mother, the Picturehouse was deathly silent. I asked how hard it was for Spears to get to that emotional state.
“Very” stated Davies. “Britney had an acting coach on set with her...she was very professional...she would do classes...she worked very hard.”
Davies also stated that whilst we all chuckled at the songs in the film, at the time nobody had heard them. In fact, they got the music to “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” on the day of the piano scene shoot.
When asked about audience response, Davies commented that amongst girls and young women, the film flew. She said it was a testament to Shonda Rhimes’s (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) script and that whilst melodramtic at points, it has a real message. It ends not with Lucy and her new love, but with the three girls on the beach. That was important.
However, she also discovered that because it was a Britney film, boys would go and see it to poke fun and “get a laugh”, which she said was “hurtful”. They were ruining a special moment for so many young women.
Davies spoke about the bittersweet nature of the film, because it captured Spears at a genuinely innocent time. After that, it seemed everything fell apart. Her parents split, her and Justin broke up and the press began to turn on her.
After a short wrap up, it was over. More applause and a few thank yous and the room began to clear. A moment in time...
Crossroads is far from a masterpiece. It is melodramatic, oddly paced and neither as funny, nor as tragic as it should be. It also teeters dangerously on the edge of becoming problematic -- Spears stays behind to have sex, whilst her friends deal with a past rape and miscarriage. What?? However, it rings with truth and honesty and heart, and the chemistry between the girls is superb.
But what it really achieves is capturing a key moment in the life of one the world’s biggest and most controversial stars. Before the marriages, divorces and children; before the conservatorship and stints in rehab; before the descend and the slow return to Glory... there was a girl (or was it a woman) captured so perfectly in a moment of transition. In a moment of “in between”.
This article was written by @JoshuaTonks for BreatheHeavy.com.