This Hilary Duff vehicle, which combines a feature-film version of her television franchise with a blatant, even forced, attempt to launch her career as a pop singer, was the direct predecessor of Hannah Montana. The main difference is that, unlike its successor, this film’s musical angle was not really built into the premise. I’m not intimately familiar with the television series this film was based on, but I’m sufficiently aware of it to know that the character of Lizzie was meant to be the quintessential everygirl, right down to being stated to be a ‘straight-B student’. As a result, trying to turn this character into a pop star results in a great deal of awkwardness and forced plotting. Granted, the film is still significantly better than Hannah Montana: the Movie. It’s completely out of touch with reality, but it maintains its illusions without drawing attention to how false they are as the latter movie does, and Hillary Duff is a far more gifted performer than Miley Cyrus. She’s exceptionally pretty, extremely charming, an expressive (if admittedly unsophisticated) actress, and while she’s no Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, compared to Cyrus, Britney Spears or most other teenybopper pop starlets of the time, she’s actually a fairly decent singer. In fact, I’m rather surprised, given who she had as competition, that her singing career didn’t end up going anywhere. Granted, Duff was never an _important_ talent…despite being reasonably good at a number of things, there’s a reason she’s practically forgotten today…but this was before the days of Taylor Swift or Carly Rae Jepsen, and the truth is that most teen-marketed pop stars at the time were actually much less talented than Duff. But the film has a painfully calculated feel to it…it was very unsubtly contrived as a launching pad for Duff’s singing career. The film’s plot uses a series of forced contrivances to get away from the premise of the show it’s supposedly based on, from sending the main character on a trip to Rome to having an Italian singer recruit her to impersonate her doppelganger (also played by Duff). The show’s central gimmick, where a crudely-drawn cartoon version of Lizzie gives voice to her unspoken thoughts, is used occasionally in the film, but it feels like an awkward excrescence here, and appears so sporadically that it would probably baffle anyone who wasn’t familiar with the show. As for the music, it isn’t really anything to write home about, but the big ballad “What Dreams Are Made Of” is rather pretty, and “Why Not”, Duff’s recent hit single which they incorporated into the movie, is quite catchy in a bubblegummy way. This isn’t the worst teenybopper-pop film vehicle of the decade by a wide margin, but it’s so shamelessly blatant about being a piece of product that it’s hard to summon up much enthusiasm for it.