Let’s travel back, for a moment, to the summer of 2003. It was a simpler time. People were earnestly wearing cargo pants. Beyoncé was crazy in love. And our friends over at American Idol thought it would be a great idea to take their first-ever winner and runner-up and contractually obligate them to appear in a musical rom-com about finding true love on spring break while surrounded by people in bucket hats. (There are so many bucket hats.)
To give the year 2003, the producers of American Idol, and our younger selves some credit, From Justin to Kelly made a lot of sense, at least on paper. It was only natural that American Idol would want to capitalize on its surprise reality-show hit. People loved Kelly Clarkson. People loved Justin Guarini. People loved bucket hats. Who wouldn’t want to see them all hanging out in Florida, singing sweet tunes and falling in love? Apparently, all of America. The movie was released in theaters on June 20, 2003, and performed so poorly that the DVD was quickly pushed out two months later on August 26, 2003. It was a widely panned disaster. Movies need both plot and characters that have at least partially been developed. Who knew?
In honor of the 14th anniversary of the swift DVD release of From Justin to Kelly, a terrible movie about two very likable people, Vulture thought it would be fun to finally ask some of our lingering questions about the 81-minute 2004 Razzie Award winner for Distinguished Under-Achievement in Choreography.
1. Why are any of these guys friends?
Let me introduce your male leads, also known as the “Pennsylvania Posse.” They are Brandon (Greg Siff), the playboy partier who “raps”; Eddie (Brian Dietzen), the nerd (he says things like “cyber-chatting”); and Justin (Guarini), the Normal. Brandon and Justin are the kings of spring break — they “own” a party promotion “company,” although their business model is hazy at best. Eddie, I think, was kidnapped and brought to spring break against his will. The only problem (just kidding, there are as many problems as there are bucket hats): None of these guys would ever be friends. Justin has too much dignity (I’m serious) to be linked to Brandon, and honestly, I’m surprised Brandon even knows Eddie’s name. There are ways of explaining these unlikely male friendships — I don’t know, maybe these three guys have been friends since they were in diapers and even though they all grew apart they still make it a point to come together once a year, down in Florida, for sunshine, parties, babes, and friendship? But even that background story, which I just came up with in the span of 60 seconds, is more in-depth than anything offered up in this film.
2. Who came up with the name the “Pennsylvania Posse” and may I have a word with that person?
This group nickname sounds like something one of their dads, who definitely wears high-waisted shorts, came up with. It was probably Brandon’s dad. At least narrow it down to a major metropolitan area, boys. The Harrisburg Homeboys. The Scranton Squad. The Pittsburgh Pirates. Okay, that last one is already taken, but you get the idea. Also, what group of guys in 2003 willingly calls themselves a “posse?” I have so many questions about this group of males.
3. What’s with all the towel choreography?
Towels are a normal item one would find on the beach; subsequently, it makes sense to have towels featured in this film. But the opening group dance number almost exclusively features dancers using towels. There’s towel-shimmying. Towel-waving. Wearing towels like capes. Wearing towels like skirts. Back to the cape thing. Lifting women up with towels. Who is washing all of these towels?
Is this the move that won the film its choreography Razzie?
4. Did people really send text messages like this in 2003 (or at any point in human history)?
Forget the fact that the third text is extremely threatening (NO MNS NO, JSTN), these text messages look complicated. Sure, this was before phones had a full keyboard and you had to scroll through the letters on each number key in order to spell out a word (the horror!), but still, removing vowels seems very labor-intensive and also could lead to a lot of misinterpretation. Which is important, considering the texting is basically the crux of this entire movie; for those unfamiliar with the machinations of the plot of From Justin to Kelly, Justin thinks he’s texting Kelly, but her supposed BFF Alexa (Katherine Bailess) actually gave him her own number because she’s hella jealous and wants him all to herself (who could blame her???). It’s also where the title comes from (Get it? The texts are From Justin to Kelly).
5. Who invited Alexa?
Whereas the Pennsylvania Posse doesn’t make sense in any combination, at least we can agree that when it comes to the three female leads, Kelly and Kaya (Anika Noni Rose) would probably be friends. As for Alexa? At one point, Kaya asks Kelly, “Why are we friends with her?” and I don’t think she’s kidding. It’s very clear Alexa is merely around to service the plot; without Alexa and her text-message meddling (see: question No. 4), Kelly and Justin would’ve just met, smashed faces, harmonized with their angel voices, and generally enjoyed spring break. Which, honestly, sounds like a great movie in comparison.
6. Why didn’t Justin Guarini make more rom-coms?
This question is coming from a person who teared up watching Justin Guarini’s Idol performance of “Get Here”… this week. So take it as you will. Watch the scene in FJTK in which our heroes meet for the first time in the ladies restroom as Justin is trying to flee from some rabid spring break biddies, and tell me you don’t laugh at his self-deprecating “Girl, my hair won’t even fit through there” when Kelly suggests escape via tiny window. This guy was made for rom-coms! I know Guarini is doing well in the theater world (I know because I’ve seen it with my own two Guarini-loving eyes), and that he has blessed us with “Lil’ Sweet” on those Diet Dr. Pepper commercials, but maybe one good thing can come out of the mess that was From Justin to Kelly. Unless he is scarred for life, which is not out of the realm of possibility.
7. Why do Kelly and Justin wear matching white outfits on their first date?
Is this a visual representation of how Justin and Kelly are made for each other? Are they both just really into white athleisure wear? Did they plan this offscreen? Does everyone sport white track suits on boats and I, a permanent land-dweller, am just unaware? Per usual, one question leads to countless more.
8. How did the tie skirt not become the fashion must-have of summer 2003?
Kelly wears the tie skirt after she comes to believe Justin is blowing her off (text-message mishaps know no bounds!) because she’s not a party girl. Like Sandra Dee before her, Kelly dons a sexy outfit in order to show Justin that she, typically a “good girl,” is down to party when necessary. Look at that thing! It’s a walking conversation piece, it’s comfortable, and it promotes good air flow. All of which are very important factors when selecting your spring break wardrobe. Bring back the tie skirt!
9. Why wasn’t this movie just 81 minutes of Kelly Clarkson and Anika Noni Rose duets?
We don’t even need a plot, just let those singers sing! (Full disclosure: I really wanted to highlight that tie skirt again. It does a lot of work for this movie and it deserves some recognition.)
10. Who decided it would be cool to throw in a subplot about the difficulties in dating between social classes?
As the old saying goes, “Every rom-com about spring break needs a main character falling for a waiter, going to an underground salsa party with that waiter, standing up to that waiter’s boss because she doesn’t think the waiter (who she met yesterday) is being compensated properly, getting that waiter fired, and having to stand there and listen while that waiter shouts, “Some of us are home and we want more out of life, too! We need our jobs!’ ” If they would’ve made that the main story line of the movie and called it Dirty Dancing 3: We’re Singing, Not Dancing things may have worked out better for all parties involved. Anika Noni Rose, who gets saddled with this plot, has a powerful voice, but it’s not enough to make this work. It may, however, be powerful enough to heal social-class divides.
11. Is there a precedent for two men fighting over a woman using hovercrafts and throwing balls into laundry baskets?
Here’s the deal, you guys. Alexa (still the worst) realizes that her texting machinations will not be strong enough to keep spring break soulmates Kelly and Justin apart, so she calls up Luke (Christopher Bryan), Kelly’s admirer from home. Luke drops everything and drives from Texas to claim Kelly as his own. Justin, god love him, isn’t having it. In his infinite wisdom, Brandon encourages the boys to have a hovercraft-off.
Yes, a hovercraft-off. Whoever gets the most balls in his opponent’s laundry basket (?) while riding a hovercraft (??) wins Kelly, or something. They’re never clear on the rules, and also Kelly isn’t property, so I think it’s more of an excuse for two dudes to jump on some hovercrafts, which I get. Technically, Justin is the winner, but it’s only because Luke gets injured (Kelly seems concerned for three minutes), so in reality he loses. We all lose.
12. There are three girls and three guys; why didn’t they just pair the main cast members up?
We have to sit through a parade of side characters who become our main characters’ romantic interests, including: a teenage boy’s fantasy of what a cop looks like, that waiter trying to teach us a lesson, a Xena Warrior Princess fanatic the nerd met on the internet, and a whole slew of barbacks who show up in Alexa’s fantasy song-and-dance number about how sad it is to be the party girl. It’s tough for a movie to have both too much going on and not enough for anything to make sense, but From Justin to Kelly manages to do just that. Maybe keeping the story line count down to three would’ve helped.
Don’t worry, I hate myself for trying to fix this movie, too.
13. Why wasn’t Justin and Kelly’s ballad “Anytime” a huge hit?
In the end, Kelly sees Alexa kissing Justin and assumes he’s been playing her the whole time. Justin, a very sweet boy, tries to explain that Alexa is a terrible friend, but Kelly won’t hear it. (Yes, we really are talking about this movie in this much depth.) He uses this outburst as another example of Kelly being hot and cold with him. Justin flees. Then, within the time it takes Kelly to figure out Alexa’s scheme AND sing two verses worth of “Anytime,” we’re informed that offscreen, Alexa intercepts Justin on his way to the airport and confesses everything, allowing him to return and join Kelly for the final few bars of that glorious number. If the purpose of all those shenanigans was simply to lead us to some sweet Justin and Kelly harmonies, so be it; this was a reason someone, somewhere thought this movie could work. Most awkward transition from talking to singing aside, those riffs and runs straight-up move me. And after all, isn’t that what spring break is about?
14. Finally, what?
A follow-up: Why?