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11-year-old Chrissa Maxwell move to Minnesota with her family in the middle of a school-year and she's struggling to fit in at her new school. The first day at school she meets three bullying girls called "The Mean Bees". They immediately start to harass and bully Chrissa and soon her life turns into a cruel nightmare. The three bullies make life hard for her, and when the worst bully becomes Chrissa's swim rival, it's time to do something. What can Chrissa do to stop the three bullies? Written by
It's not a happy time for Chrissa Maxwell when she moves with her mother, father and older brother to the Minnesota home of her grandmother (Michael Learned). The fourth-grader left behind her bosom buddies back in Iowa, and her family is relocating in the wake of her grandfather's passing.
Intent on starting out on the right foot, Chrissa (Sammi Hanratty) promptly runs afoul of a clutch of Alpha Female bullies who pile on the abuse and push the hapless newcomer to the brink of dropping out in favor of home-schooling. But with a little help from her wise grandmother and a perceptive art teacher (Jennifer Tilly), she learns to stare down her adversaries, claim her place as a member of the student body, and provide a role model for bullying victims of all stripes.
"American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong" is a thoroughly earnest drama that squeezes the protagonist through a painful gamut of pre-adolescent conflicts, engineered primarily by Tara, the bully in chief played with wicked relish by the very capable Adair Tishler.
Young viewers will have little problem soaking up every drop of pathos projected by Miss Hanratty and by an even more sympathetic co-victim, a little homeless girl played to the hilt by Kaitlyn Dever.
Just a few things worth pointing out: Dealing with the subject of bullying apparently prompted the decision here not to make light of anything. Thus, the main problem with "Chrissa" is that there are almost no light moments. Good story-tellers know that humor is one of the best ways to relieve tension for viewers. Other than a spitting llama and a quirky characterization by the trouper Miss Tilly, there's not much to chuckle about in this movie. Miss Hanratty is convincing in various degrees of angst, but the movie may leave youngsters a bit exhausted by the time the theme is realized on camera: that is, standing up to bullies opens the door to friendship.
Another problem is the puzzling lack of motivation shown for Tara. Apparently she is insecure but we don't get much insight into what drives her to be Mean Girl No. 1 in this classroom. But then, maybe an exceptionally pretty, somewhat haughty little girl doesn't need any other reason to be mean.
As with other movies in the "American Girl" series, the subtext is in product placement. Here, it's a fashion show of contemporary looks. The cast is costumed in closets full of attractive dresses, sweaters, skirts, tops, headbands, swimwear not to mention tights in a rainbow of colors.
This movie will no doubt give many young viewers a lot of exciting ideas for the next time they go shopping for their dolls and themselves.
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