Stuck In The Suburbs Is A DCOM Ode To Teen Girl Fandom

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: “Stuck in the Suburbs”

Where You Can Stream It: Disney+

The Pitch: In this oft-forgotten 2004 Disney Channel Original Movie, “Saturday Night Live” alum Taran Killam plays Jordan Cahill, a heartthrob pop star who captures the hearts of teenaged girls around the nation. With his chunky blond highlights, colorful pleather jackets, and camera-ready pout, Jordan is the quintessential early-aughts celebrity. “Take a chance, take a risk, hope is where the magic is,” he sings on his latest dreamy hit, and it’s a message that suburban teen soccer player Brittany (Danielle Panabaker) and her chic new classmate Natasha (Brenda Song) hear through their TV sets and take to heart.

Brittany and Natasha do get to take their chance when Jordan comes to town to film a music video. When they quite literally bump into his assistant (Ryan Belleville), they end up accidentally swapping phones. In a plot that’s basically a teenage fangirl’s daydream come to life, the two teens start up an ultimately benign but definitely still blackmail-adjacent catfishing situation, managing their favorite star’s life through his phone. They give him the haircut and wardrobe of their dreams, convince him to perform to save a historic building in their community, and help him break free from the heavily constructed image the music industry powers-that-be pushed him towards.

By the end, the two bored suburbanites have had the adventure of a lifetime with the boy of their dreams, which is about as much plot as you can ever ask for from a Disney Channel Original Movie.

Why it’s essential viewing

It would be disingenuous of me to argue that “Stuck in the Suburbs” is truly essential viewing. Even for the DCOM-loving crowd, the movie typically doesn’t register in the upper echelon of pre-teen favorites like “The Cheetah Girls” or “High School Musical.” Taran Killam never became a multi-hyphenate performer like some of his Disney channel peers (although he did become one of the funniest actors on television), and the film didn’t spawn sequels or incessant marathons on the Disney Channel. But “Stuck in the Suburbs” serves a very specific function that few pop culture relics do: It’s a delightful, harmless teen girl fantasy come to life.

Teen girls’ taste in music has been a point of public mockery¬†for pretty much forever, and stories about teen girls have often been equally belittled and devalued. Refreshingly, “Stuck in the Suburbs” does not give a damn about any of that. Not only is it a movie that’s entirely about the validity of teen girl enthusiasm, but it revels in that enthusiasm with scenes of shrieking, party-line phone conversations, music video dance-alongs, and fangirl freak-outs. The movie understands that it’s really fun to just be head-over-heels into something, especially when you’re too young to make your own life happen yet and tacking up magazine posters is the best form of self-expression you’ve got. “Stuck in the Suburbs” plays out like a platonic, positive self-insert fanfic about meeting your heroes and finding out they’re actually worth cheering for.

Fangirls are people, too!

The bad parts of this movie are also good, in the inexplicable way only a DCOM can be. It makes some laughably weird directorial choices (those frantic music video zooms), and the film’s epilogue is borderline nonsense. But the songs (which Taran Killam confirmed he didn’t actually sing) are both catchy and campy, pop pastiches that could also be genuine pop hits; the “na na nas” in “Make A Wish”¬†are about as powerful an earworm as “na na nas” can be. Plus, Killam still fully commits to the bit, especially in the fake music videos that serve as picture-perfect time capsules to the boy band solo act era. While teen girls are never the butt of the joke in “Stuck in the Suburbs,” the industry that commodifies their interests is. Jordan Cahill is a winking parody of all the real people whose careers are built around a haircut.

The movie’s original soundtrack is an endearing window into the past, too, with songs from Hayley Duff, Jesse McCartney, and Disney Channel actor Anneliese van der Pol. Nearly 20 years later, pretty much everything in “Stuck in the Suburbs” is (enjoyably) dated, except its ability to see teen girls as people whose interests are as valid as anyone else’s. “Stuck in the Suburbs” is a silly, slight movie, but it’s also a special little love letter to the screaming fangirl in our hearts.

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