Pin It

Why I love the trashy, hated, live-action Bratz movie

With a 9 per cent average on Rotten Tomatoes and a penchant for the worst tween tropes, at 10 years old Bratz is nothing but syrupy fun

Why should a pleasure be “guilty” if we enjoy it? “Guilt Tripping” is a new series in which writers talk about why they love something – be it a film, book, drink, whatever – that the world makes them feel guilty for loving. For the fourth instalment of “Guilt Tripping”, writer Amelia Tait is discussing her non-ironic love for the live-action film Bratz

There is a scene exactly 1 hour and 1 minute into Bratz (2007) that makes absolutely no sense. Oscar-winning actor, and father of Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight is dressed as a circus ringmaster and looking forlorn. He turns to his daughter (Emily Rose Everhard) and says: “You’re a very beautiful girl, uh, cupcake.” As slow, sad music plays, a small smile creeps up on her face – which is painted like a clown’s – and she thanks him for being a “good dad” (this is the first and last conversation the two characters have together in the film). “Thank you, uh, jellybean,” replies Jon Voight, as the camera abruptly cuts away.

Presumably, an earlier scene once existed that explained this interaction (except, I guess, the “uh”s, which are pronounced enough to make it into the subtitles and a mystery for time and space itself). Yet if a scene was cut, no one from a crew member to a message board poster has ever thought to mention it. This is for one simple reason: no one, ever, in the history of ever, has cared that much about the live-action Bratz movie. Except me.

It is unintentionally hilarious scenes like this one that mean Bratz has a firm place in my heart. Yet although I’m laughing-at-scenes-I’m-not-meant-to-laugh-at, my love for Bratz is not at all ironic. There is no irony in the pure happiness that dances up in my chest while I watch four come-to-life Bratz dolls defeat their school bully and win a talent competition, and there is no snark or sarc in the fact me and my boyfriend watch it together at least once a year (after I wrote this sentence he turned to me and said: “We watch it more than that”.)

What makes my love for the movie all the more embarrassing is that I didn't watch Bratz when it first came out in 2007. My love isn’t based on a fuzzy nostalgia for a teen flick, but began when the aforementioned bf and I decided to scroll down and pick one of the worst rated movies on Netflix to watch. Bratz has, in my opinion, been brutally and unfairly maligned by critics. With a score of 2.9 on IMDb, 21 on Metacritic, and 9 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, negative reviews for the movie focus on the fact it is for and about young girls. The word “slut” features eight times in the 97 user-written IMDb reviews, and The AV Club even referred to the girls as dressed like “off-duty stripper[s]” in its review (the picture used to illustrate this article features two girls in jeans, one in a full-length dress, and one in shorts).

“With a score of 2.9 on IMDb, 21 on Metacritic, and 9 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, negative reviews for the movie focus on the fact it is for and about young girls”

I understand that movies based on toys are not designed to be critically acclaimed (unless of course it’s The Lego Movie, which had the common sense not to pass the Bechdel Test). But the fact most critics hate the film because it teaches girls to like clothes and shopping means they’ve missed the point entirely. Men can make a movie about police officers in a heist and claim it’s about Christmas, but they can’t allow a movie that is clearly about friendship to be about friendship just because it also features lipgloss.

That isn’t to say, of course, that Bratz is good. The film was a box office bomb and universally panned, with The BBC calling it “a chore” with “little story to speak of”, while The Guardian said the cast “deliver their lines as if they've never heard English spoken aloud before”. Yet, inexplicably, these are supposed to be criticisms of the movie! In actuality, these faults are what makes the film great.

Bratz is one of those brilliant good-bad movies, that is – it is brilliant precisely because it is terrible. To watch it is to play bingo with the hammiest TV tropes: the hidden closet; the mean girl with the handbag dog; a USB that plugs directly into a fliphone; a girl whose only problem is being a clutz; a spaghetti-based food fight; an annoying little brother; the breaking of a statue; some seemingly-sponsored mentions of Myspace; a guy teaching a girl about sport as an excuse to touch her; a talent competition; a cool girl’s boyfriend who actually fancies an uncool girl but for some reason stays with the cool girl until the end of the movie and we’re supposed to be like yes, ok, fine; and finally, the uttering of the film’s title within the movie itself (“You…you…brats!”).

Yet for all of these cliché tropes, Bratz delights in the number of utterly inexplicable plot points and nonsensical pieces of dialogue (see: the introduction of this piece). There is the scene where a nerd teaches jocks how to do algebra and the equation is 6+1+2 divided by 3; there is a high school boy repeatedly hitting on a primary school-aged girl; there is Tom Hanks’ son, Chet Hanks, saying the word “salutations” and then fighting a football player; there is a school logo that is a hatchet; and most importantly of all – oh, oh, so importantly – there is a love interest in the form of a deaf hunk who: 1) uses sign language only once, when he first appears in the movie, 2) has become deaf recently, though it is never explained how, and 3) is so proficient a lip reader that he can converse with other characters even when he can’t see their lips. His lines are undeniably the best. “What are you talking about? I can’t hear” and “I can’t hear but I heard you” are particularly powerful.  

There are a lot of bad movies that have cult followings, but few are as minute-for-minute enjoyable as Bratz. Unlike films that are bad because they disrupt the rules of movie-making, Bratz is so brilliantly formulaic that it is like entertainment on auto-pilot. This is why there is no irony in how much I love it. This is why I can promise that if you were to watch it right now, there is no possible earthly way you wouldn’t enjoy yourself. It’s a very beautiful film, uh, cupcake.

Lead illustration by Owain Anderson