Before commenting on the film FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY, it’s important for the Author to divulge that she was the host of an “American Idol” office fan group when the series premiered in June 2002. In the interest of impartiality(?), the Author must also confess that she placed phone calls to vote for both Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini during their run up to the finale. (Yes, this was before texting.) And when she got a busy signal she re-dialed. And she kept on re-dialing until she was absolutely certain her “favorites” were secure.
You see, the Author learned a grave lesson when gifted Season One singer (and fourth place finisher) Tamyra Gray was kicked off the show because she didn’t get enough votes. How could she have let that happen? She assumed Tamyra was safe. Someone else was surely voting for her. Of course, Simon, Randy and Paula were shocked. America was shocked. And Seacrest would spend the next decade reminding everyone to vote repeatedly or face the consequences. In subsequent seasons the producers would add a “Judges’ Save” to correct the wrongdoings of a misguided voting public – since apparently Americans couldn’t tell what was and wasn’t “pitchy” – but in Season One, the fate of the singers was squarely in America’s hands.
By the time of the final showdown between Clarkson and Guarini at the Kodak Theater in September 2002, it was no contest… Kelly would be the victor. Everyone in the audience knew it. Including the Author.
It should be further noted that the Author attended that series finale with her colleagues wearing a group costume that featured custom airbrushing in patriotic colors of red, white and blue. The Author proudly held a homemade American flag with the phrase “Kelly is our Idol!” emblazoned across it.
For this, and for contributing to the underlying fandom that gave rise to “one of the worst movies ever made,” the Author sincerely apologizes.
Before I attempt to recap the film’s plot, it’s important to state the obvious. The film is dreadful. It grossed $2.7M domestically over its opening weekend and went on to gross a total of $4.9M. Despite my complete dedication to the American Idol TV series (never missed an episode for at least five seasons) I’m proud to say that I did not see this movie on the big screen. And that’s saying something because I paid to see these singers on tour. That’s right. I paid for a ticket to the American Idols LIVE! Tour 2002.
Beyond being a commercial disaster, FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY was critically destroyed. Josh Tyrangiel of Time Magazine described it as “the worst film so far this century,” and The Free Lance–Star referred to it as “the world’s worst movie.” The film won a special Razzie —”The Governor’s Award – for Distinguished Under-Achievement in Choreography” and was nominated for eight additional Razzies (including a second special award, “Worst Excuse for an Actual Movie”). International Business Times included the film on its list of Hollywood’s top 5 worst movies ever made.
The good thing is that the film’s talent stood by the source material. Wait… nevermind. Kelly Clarkson stated, “I knew when I read the script it was going to be real, real bad, but when I won [American Idol], I signed that piece of paper, and I could not get out of it.” At least she respects a contract.
I’d describe this movie as a modern day Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello beach film, minus the charm, the talent, or the sincerity, and with a lot more songs about being slutty. It’s a fish-out-of-water story about a girl from Texas (Kelly Clarkson) who heads to Spring Break in the big city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, only to meet a party promoter (Justin Guarini) who is her “complete” opposite. Except that sometimes the Texas girl just wants to get dirty on the dance floor and sometimes the bad-boy party promoter uses his earnings from hosting bikini contests to pay for textbooks. So really, they’re more alike than at first glance. It’s a romance for the ages.
Fortunately this film also attempts to address Classism (yes, Kelly’s “smart” best friend Kaya ends up falling for a hardworking waiter.) Good thing this important issue was resolved through salsa dancing.
We get the usual jock-falls-for-hot-female-cop trope. Wait, is that a thing? And we get the nerd-finds-another-nerd storyline that leaves us believing they’re their love can truly outlast Spring Break.
It took me over an hour to realize that not a single song in this movie became a hit single. And they are singing almost continually.
So how does the story play out? Glad you didn’t ask.
We open on Kelly Clarkson belting out a bluesy song in some small, rundown restaurant/bar in Texas. She’s got her signature chunky highlights and bob hairdo. So far, I’m intrigued.
Kelly is a cocktail waitress with two weeks vacation. Her girlfriends Kaya (the “smart one”) and Alexa (the bitchy, blonde, “party girl” with a heavy Southern accent) show up and beg Kelly to use her time off to drive them to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break. Kelly complies. Because, time off.
Next we meet Justin and his two friends beachside. Turns out they are well-regarded party promoters in Fort Lauderdale with a plan to host a major whipped-cream bikini contest where they will be judges and make tons of money. Ka-ching. The discuss commitment issues. Because, bros.
The mismatched couple cliché of Justin and Kelly begins while we’re still in opening credits.
Kelly and her friends arrive at the Dunes Motel and abandon their belongings in their convertible jeep (I worry about someone stealing their luggage). They can’t wait to “hit the beach.”
Here we break into song as the guys and the girls sing about who they are going to hook up with in a scantily-clad, dancey, grindy, beach scene. Somehow within the first five minutes Kelly’s good girl juxtaposition is disposed of until it’s convenient again for the plot.
“Tell me, can you feel the love?” they all sing. (Is grinding with strangers love?)
And then it happens… Justin approaches Kelly. They’re both singing… They’re both grinding. It’s romance.
“I’ve been watching you awhile and I really like your smile,” starts Justin.
“I can see you’ve got a line, but I know that right now we’ll be just fine…” retorts Kelly while provocatively dancing for him in the sand.
“Should we really play this game, can you tell me what’s your name?” questions an eager Justin. Star crossed lovers?!
“Does it matter all the same? You can see in my eyes that we’ll meet up again.” (Does ‘again’ rhyme with ‘same’?)
Cut to provocative dry-hump dancing on the beach intercut with skateboarding. Because, young people like skateboards.
“Tell me, can you feel the vibe? Tell me can you feel the love?” (I know I can.)
The song ends with the creepy line, “She looks like she won’t, but I think she might.” (Wait, what?!)
…Cut to the guys checking in at the motel…
“No smoking, no drinking, no loud music, and no girls!” explains the motel manager. It’s like Footloose!
…Cut to the girls getting dressed in their own hotel room…
“Kelly, please try to unclench and have a good time.” (The word “unclench” sounds more and more disgusting as I re-hear it.)
Apparently Justin already has set his mind on Kelly – they had that moment on the beach with all the bumping and the grinding. He’s going to look for her. Turns out Kelly’s thinking about him too and plans to find him on the crowded streets of Fort Lauderdale.
…Cut to the streets where Justin spots Kelly and Kelly spots Justin in the distance, but the endless crowds keep them apart…
They start singing to themselves as they pine for the other.
“It’s not too late to call my name, so don’t you look the other way./ Open your eyes and you’ll see. My heart won’t wait, don’t hesitate. /We’ve got a chance, we’ve got to take. /Feels like you could be whatever part of me.”
Will they or won’t they find each other? The suspense is killing me. And these crowds are just unending.
Being the sought-after party-promoter, Justin’s got the yellow party entry wristband bracelets that everyone wants. After getting accosted by a group of girls in bikinis for passes, he flees into the women’s restroom where he bumps into Kelly.
“Come here often?” she asks. “My friends call me Kelly for short.” (He hadn’t asked. But seriously, what else would they call you? Is ‘Kelly’ short for something? I’m utterly confused.) She gets Justin’s name.
“So Justin, do you spend a lot of time in the girl’s room?” Awk-ward…
While “trapped” in the bathroom, Kelly explains that she is insulted by the whipped-cream bikini contest that “some guys” are promoting on the beach. Justin has to hide his real identity as one of those lecherous party promoters. Draaaaama.
Kelly helps Justin escape from the hot girls looking for party passes by hoisting him out of the bathroom window. Will they ever meet again?
Fortunately, Justin indeed goes looking for Kelly, but henruns into her pretty blonde “party girl” friend Alexa instead. Justin confesses to Alexa that he’s interested in Kelly because “she’s not a party girl.” Insulted, Alexa gives Justin her phone number instead of Kelly’s. Things are going to get mess-y.
Justin texts “Kelly” eagerly, but Kelly doesn’t know. Alexa texts Justin back as Kelly to say that she’s “not interested.”
Meanwhile, Kelly’s friend Kyla meets a handsome waiter who takes her salsa dancing. She doesn’t know how to salsa, but guess what? Once she gets started, she totally nails it. She breaks into song about the power of rhythm.
Back to Justin… He’s been blown off by Kelly but he’s still dedicated. He sends her a series of texts. Unfortunately, Alexa promptly hides them.
Kelly figures Justin isn’t interested in her, he’s just another player from the playa (my words). To make her feel better, Alexa enters Kelly into that whipped cream bikini contest. Because, she’s just SO mean.
Keeping things PG-13, Clarkson does not don a whipped cream bikini, rather, arriving on stage she once again encounters Justin who she learns is a contest judge! Infuriated, she takes the whipped cream and smashes it in his face. Burn. Cool whip burn. Take that Guarini. Long live feminism!
Man, he seemed “so different when I met him,” Kelly ponders. (I question this logic as Kelly met him grinding on a beach dancefloor and again in the women’s bathroom when he was escaping other girls).
She goes to get a cheeseburger. It’s cool, Kel. Eat your feelings.
Justin shows up there and tries to talk it over. He explains that hosting the whipped cream bikini contest helps him pay for textbooks all year. Aw, he reads. I’m seduced. Who wouldn’t be?
For no good plot reason Justin accidentally dumps hot sauce onto Kelly (is that something people put onto cheeseburgers in Fort Lauderdale?) It’s messy and funny. Kelly agrees to go on a boat ride with him later — because taking a nighttime boat ride with a stranger in an unfamiliar city always ends well.
Finally, alone on the water and away from the bustle of hot-spot Fort Lauderdale, Kelly and Justin finally get real. They discuss seasickness. Then they discuss their feelings.
With all this honesty, they can’t help but break into song.
“Baby we both share a secret wish, and you’re feeling my love reaching out to you… we both agree, it’s a timeless love.”
Kelly asks, “So do you take all your girls out here?” Justin corrects her, “No, I mostly come out here to think.” Man he’s deep. Who wouldn’t fall for this guy?
As Kelly’s feelings grow, she breaks back into song. “I see it all baby, in your eyes. And when you look at me you know I feel it too, yes I do. So let’s sail away and leave forever baby, where the crystal ocean melts into the sky….don’t ever let me go.”
They literally sail off into the sunset.
Just to keep track of the timeline, about an hour ago Kelly was smashing whipped cream into Justin’s face for hosting a sexist contest. Now she wants to sail away with him “forever.”
The next day, poolside…
Insulted by the suggestion that she’s nothing more than a party girl, Alexa texts Justin to cancel Kelly and his follow-up beach date. Instead Alexa redirects Justin to the Pearl nightclub where she’s waiting for him at the bar.
Alexa sings about “going too far” and not “caring about what people say.” She just “needs a little love to get her by.” The innuendo is not subtle. Nor is her dancing on the bar.
Justin arrives to find Alexa, but no Kelly.
Meanwhile Kelly’s on the beach waiting for Justin. After the emotion they shared on the beach, it’s no wonder she’s heartbroken and confides “maybe it’s just meant to be.” They’re so different afterall…
Kelly’s smart friend Kyla encourages her to be a little more like the partying guy he is… perhaps she can win his heart by being more like him?!
I sense a Sandy-from-Grease transformation coming? Tell me about it, Stud.
Meanwhile back at the bar, Alexa encourages Justin to find a “party girl” that’s better suited for him. Hint. Hint. She lies and tells Justin that Kelly has a boyfriend back at home (Justin, it’s not true!), but he’s not sure what to believe anymore.
Cut to Kelly showing up at Justin’s next party (remember, he’s a major party promoter)… But this time, she’s arrived with attitude and a crop-top.
Let’s sing about it, ladies.
“I want to tell you that I love you, but I can’t decide…I’m just a simple girl, but I’m the one you want.”
(They are *this* close to GREASE lyrics there.)
“It must be the madness and the magic that I feel inside. Must be the music and the rhythm, playing with my mind. Must be the chemistry — you and me — that I can’t deny. I wanna tell you that I love you, love you, but I can’t decide…”
This Spring Break romance has me so conflicted.
Turns out Alexa’s got some more trouble up her sleeve. She calls in Kelly’s coworker from the restaurant in Texas to pretend he’s Kelly’s boyfriend to drive Justin away.
The boy from Texas shows up. Justin is shocked.
The only way to settle this dispute is with a hoverboat race that involves tossing bean bags into each other’s craft. Honestly, I’m not sure how to explain the premise of this scene other than perhaps, product placement?
In what’s supposed to be the climatic action sequence of the film, Texas boy squares off against Justin in the water. The boats collide and the Texas boy gets knocked overboard and he’s bleeding. Kelly races to his side. After he regains consciousness, Kelly tells him that they are just friends. So much for the potential plot tension…
Justin isn’t deterred. He wants Kelly. Alexa goes to comfort Justin and tells him to forget about her because she’s offered him “nothing but lies and heartbreak.” Alexa moves in for a kiss.
Kelly sees this all play out from outside the bar. Justin pulls away from Alexa’s embrace, but it’s too late. It’s just too late. Kelly has already seen her best friend kissing the guy she likes. Shit, will they ever get on the same page?
Kelly confronts Alexa about inviting the boy from Texas to the beach and for kissing Justin. Alexa twists the story on its head saying that Justin was the one who called her and that he was only using Kelly to get close Alexa. Girl, you sneaky.
That night, Justin spots Kelly dancing with another guy. He calls out to her across the dancefloor, but she runs away in tears. After chasing her down, Justin explains that he hadn’t hit on to Alexa, but that Alexa had pursued him. And that he should be the one upset with Kelly because she had been giving him mixed messages in texts. Wait, what texts?!
Kelly confronts Alexa and immediately goes through the text messages on her phone. She finally puts it together. Alexa has no excuse for her actions. She explains that she has “always been jealous” of Kelly and felt like “Ms. Runner Up.” But Kelly says she’d “never do the same to a friend.” That’s right Clarkson. Girl code.
It’s the last night of spring break. Kelly is walking along the quiet pier singing about her heartbreak.
“I can’t face this world that’s keeping us apart, when I can be the one that shows you everything you missed before. / Any time you need love I’m on your side. Just let me be the one that can make it alright.”
Justin finds her at the pier. Thank heavens. But how did he know where to locate her?
This time, Alexa deserves all the credit. She told Justin the truth.
Justin takes over from here, explaining, “So now, in the entire universe, we’re in the same exact place, in the same exact time, feeling the same exact way about each other… so how can you say it’s not fate.”
And with that, they break into a duet.
“Anytime you need love, baby I’m on your side…. Anytime you need love, baby, you’re in my heart. I can make it alright.”
And then they finally kiss…
Cut back to the last day on the beach…
Big dance number to a remix of “That’s The Way I Like It. Uh-huh, Uh-huh.”
Fade out on some grinding on the beach…