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Crossroads at 20: The Cult Classic Still Accurately Captures the turbulent transition from Girlhood

The 2002 movie is a cult classic not just because of its incredible stars and iconic writer, but its accurate portrayal of female adolescence.

Courtesy Everett Collection/Columbia Pictures

As a young girl, I was immersed in watching movies, every night as if it was a requirement for my body to produce serotonin. I consumed DVDs and VCRs so much that eventually, it begins skipping because of scratches and rewinding VCRs didn’t bother me, it was merely the experience. Now, when I look back on my childhood and pre-teen years, my memories playback like they’ve been captured on the Red One camera of ‘07. And I’ll never forget the first time I watched Crossroads.

Twenty years ago today, a film that truly captured the transition from girlhood to womanhood was released. Starring Taryn Manning, Zoe Saldaña and pop princess, Britney Spears, Crossroads hit the nail on its head when it took on the difficult coming-of-age genre. The film follows three girls as they graduate high school and embark on a cross-country road trip to find themselves and rediscover their friendship in the process.

I was only around 8 when I watched this film with my older sister, cosied in bed, excited to see Britney Spears in a movie, years after its initial release. Despite being younger than its target audience, I received the film's message loud and clear: friendships change and the transition to womanhood will be challenging. The box office success was directed by Tamra Davis and written by non-other than the fresh Shonda Rhimes at the early stages of creating her empire. Before Bridgerton and Scandal, practising her skills in creating screenplays for young girls, Shonda Rhimes perfectly crafted complex characters which are often found in everyday female friendship circles.

The movie opens in a small Georgia town, with three little girls burying a wish box and vowing to dig it up on the night of their high school graduation. As the trio grows up, their friendship dwindles into a mere memory of what once was. Lucy (Britney Spears), an introvert with an overbearing father (Dan Aykroyd), becomes the valedictorian of their graduating class and is naive to dating and sex. Kit (Zoe Saldaña) is the most popular and rich girl in school who is also engaged to an older guy. Mimi’s (Taryn Manning) story is bleaker, being the trailer park outcast of the senior class with rumours swirling of teenage pregnancy.

It seems trivial: the virgin, the it-girl and the loner become friends despite their differences. But this isn’t The Breakfast Club and Shonda Rhimes is known for creating intelligent, feminist characters with distinctive personalities and stories. There is so much more to unpack as we learn about their past dreams and embark on a journey of self-reflection, revisiting old wounds, making adult decisions in the midst of rekindling a friendship that simply faded. Shonda wasn’t afraid to tackle the darkness that can often cloud the female teen experience: absent mothers, overprotective dads, fatphobia, matriarchal jealousy, even miscarriages and rape.

Courtesy Everett Collection/Columbia Pictures

It’s a tough watch and anyone who thinks it’s a bad movie, simply because Britney is on the cover, really misses the point. Girlhood comes in all shapes and sizes and it can be incredibly turbulent for many reasons. Seeing girls supporting girls is not common in cinema (in 2022, feminist films can be so tacky as if watching girlboss 101), especially those that are created through the male gaze. It’s heartwarming to watch and serves as a reminder to those watching that women exist outside of competing with one another.

Feminism is an important theme throughout the coming-of-age film as we see all three young women make decisions that are self-serving despite their possible negative repercussions. Lucy decides to not give in to peer pressure to lose her virginity to her lab partner (Justin Long), waiting for when she’s ready. Mimi eventually decides to be a single mother and keep her baby while Kit ends her engagement, (her relationship was fundamental in her self identification) rather than stay with a serial cheater. Even Lucy’s estranged mother (Kim Cattrall) stood firm in her choice to abandon a child she felt forced to have (albeit we stand with Lucy because a child doesn’t deserve that kind of pain).

Courtesy Everett Collection/Columbia Pictures

Friendship is the core of this movie, saving it from the heaviness that is woven intricately into each character's arc. They band together through thick and thin: Lucy being rejected by her Mother, Mimi losing her baby and Kit discovering that her fiance is a cheating rapist and punching him in the face. Without their friendship, the three characters would’ve crumbled but they fully support each other, without judgement.

Crossroads, originally titled What Friends Are For, transcends generations. I used this film as a guide for navigating life and for comfort during my most important development stages. I see myself reflected through all the characters whether it’s making choices that will make me happy, trying to make sense of the dating sphere or even the unsteadiness within my own female friendships. It brings me to a place of peace and understanding that friendships can fade, but that bond that was built over years, shared tears and fears, is forever.

The film was panned by critics, but what can you expect from self-proclaimed cinephiles who have no interest in the complexities of 21st-century girlhood? Despite this, the movie grossed double its budget and launched the careers of Rhimes, Saldaña, and Manning respectively. It has also reached cult classic status because of the 00’s fashion renaissance and the use of NSYNC and Shania Twain hits throughout. Even Britney recorded songs specifically for the film, but they were eventually released a year prior on her third studio album, Britney (2001).

‘Overprotected’ and ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’ perfectly encapsulates the film in a neat bow. 20 years later, the latter has a place in the hearts of many young women who feel stuck at a crossroads of what once was and what is yet to come. For those like me, I say listen to Lucy’s last line of the film: “Now none of us has any idea where life’s gonna take us, ‘cause what we have is now. And right now, we have each other.’



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