Released on DVD in January 2009
It's Valentine's Day, Chrissa's first day of school in a new state, having just moved in with her recently-widowed grandmother after her mother got a new job at the nearby hospital. Though shy, she's eager to make new friends. But the other three girls assigned to her table in school pointedly ignore her. At lunch, Chrissa tries to get to know another girl in the class, Gwen, but as soon as Chrissa sits down, Gwen says she's finished eating, and leaves. Despite the class knowing that she was coming and Chrissa taking the time to make Valentines for everyone by hand, Chrissa gets none. That night, one of the girls at her table, Sonali, comes by with a stack of Valentines--the mean girls stole them, and when Sonali's mother found out, she forced Sonali to bring them back with an apology (she's also grounded for a week). Chrissa decides to join the school swim team in hopes of having some fun, but the mean girls keep at it. They "lose" her permission slip for swimming, and constantly make catty comments. The leader of them, Tara, even intimidates Chrissa into throwing a swim race, letting Tara win.
Chrissa's determined to not let the mean girls ruin things for her. She invites people to come over on the weekend to paint ceramic bowls her father's making for a homeless charity fundraiser. Sonali signs up, despite, Tara, the leader of the mean girls, telling her not to. She and Chrissa start to get along, but Sonali's clearly still under Tara's influence. Chrissa reaches out to Gwen too, having realized that Gwen isn't mean, but shy. Gwen is polite, but remains closed-off. It's not until they're setting up for the fundraiser that Chrissa learns Gwen is homeless, and living at the homeless center. Gwen swears her to secrecy, and Chrissa says that even though Gwen can't reciprocate, she's still invited to spend time at Chrissa's house.
One day at school, Tara overhears Gwen mention that she and her mom are moving into an apartment and will no longer be homeless. When Gwen asks Chrissa to help her cut bangs, Tara butts in and says that she can do it. She purposely does a terrible job, declaring that now Gwen really looks homeless. The principal is furious, and demands to know what happened. Tara expects her friends to support her version of the story (that is, the lie that Chrissa told them Gwen's secret and then cut her hair badly), but Sonali stands up to her. The principal suspends Tara for three days and the other two girls for a day each.
When they're all back, the teacher moves the group around so that the mean girls are broken up. Tara and the other girl, Jayden, put up cruel posters mocking Chrissa: they're getting revenge. Gwen and Sonali stand by Chrissa's side, but it gets worse. Soon there are vicious rumors being posted on the swim team's website. The coach, unable to figure out who's responsible, punishes the whole team. Tara makes some mean comments and the coach benches her for the rest of practice. Angry, Tara taunts Chrissa's brother while he's on the high dive, even climbing up onto the board to do so. Chrissa tries to stop her, but Tara throws off his balance, and he hits his head, falling unconscious into the water. He's going to be okay, but he'll have to sit out the rest of the season. Tara is punished with being on towel duty for the rest of the season. Chrissa quits, unwilling to go on without her brother (she's on classroom cleaning duty for climbing the ladder instead of immediately telling the coach, because people never panic).
After a talk with her art teacher, Chrissa finally decides to talk with her parents about the bullying. With encouragement from her parents, Chrissa suggests that the class picks school bullying for its fourth grade project. After an impassioned speech from Chrissa, the whole class agrees--even Tara. Chrissa rejoins the swim team too, confident that her brother can cheer her on from the sidelines no matter how loud the bullies might get. She wins her race, refusing to let Tara bully her into not doing her best. Chrissa talks with Tara briefly, explaining that she doesn't expect to be friends, but they are teammates and together they can help their relay team win, thus winning the whole meet. They put aside their difference for the race, with Tara even giving Chrissa tips. Their team wins!
The movie ends with the class unveiling its mural, about the importance of friendship, to a thrilled school audience.
Filmed in Los Angeles.
Chrissa has a lot of funny spots when she imagines the mean girls getting their comeuppance in very melodramatic fashion.
I'm sad that Jayden doesn't end all her sentences with questions, like in the books? You know, like this? Also, Chrissa's right-handed instead of left-handed. Why specify that in the book if you're already making the movie and know your actor is right-handed, or if you can't guarantee you'll find a left-handed girl to play her?
At dinner on Valentine's Day, Chrissa and her brother give their grandmother a special card, as it's her first Valentine's Day in decades without her husband. It's really sweet.
The movie way underplays the horror of lutefisk. It's not just "air-dried whitefish." It's dried cod that's been soaked in lye (yes, the poison), washed in cold water, and served when it's the consistency of gelatin. Mmm, fish Jello.
Yes, you can join local school teams if you're homeschooled (at least in the US). You typically compete at the public school you would have attended, or the school that you're doing your homeschool curriculum through.
Way to bury the lede, Nana. "Oh, what do you kids want to name the baby llama?" several days later "Hey, your grandpa had a named picked out. Oh yeah, I guess it is perfect!"
Chrissa's dad wears really nice clothes when he's working with pottery. Good thing that's not a messy endeavor or anything.
In the book, Gwen and her mother lost their house after Gwen's father took off. In the movie, he died.
Chrissa's mom is annoyingly competitive and judgmental. Not everyone has to the best at everything. Sometimes just trying hard and doing well is plenty!
No! Don't mess around with your relay order seconds before the race! You need to be able to practice at least once!
The relay is the 200 meter medley--one swimmer does the butterfly, one backstroke, one breaststroke, and one freestyle (more reason to not screw with your relay order). In the movie, all four swimmers do the butterfly.
Chrissa Maxwell - Sammi Hanratty
Meg Maxwell - Annabeth Gish
Paul Maxwell - Timothy Bottoms
Nana Louise Hanlon - Michael Learned
Tyler Maxwell - Austin Thomas
Tara James - Adair Tishler
Sonali Matthews - Ariela Barer
Gwen Thompson - Kaitlyn Dever
Jayden Johnson - Shelby Harmon
Mr. Beck - Don Franklin
Mrs. Ziminsky - Joanne Baron
Joel - Christian Pikes
Mrs. Rundell - Jennifer Tilly
Janine Thompson - Jennifer Parsons
Alexandra - Kaylin Stewart
Swimmer - Ashley Ausburn
Lifeguard - Trevor Brunsink
Swim Meet Official - David J. Law
Additional Voice - Grace Rolek
Student - Preston Strother
Student - Tyler Strother (Preston's brother)