LOS ANGELES — The most important rule for continued success in Hollywood is simple: Don't bite the hand that feeds you.
It would seem that somebody forgot to tell MTV.
"Super Sweet 16: The Movie," a fictionalized film version of the network's hit TV show "My Super Sweet 16," actually mocks the girls at the center of the show — then gives them a surprise lesson in morality.
"I think it's very awesome, very brave for MTV to take it in this direction," co-star Brendan Miller said during a break on the film's downtown set.
Fans of the popular show know that it generally follows a fairly standard pattern — one of the film's leading ladies, Regina Nehy, summarized the typical subject as a "crazy, disrespectful" girl planning her sweet 16, a party she "takes way too seriously."
The movie flips that, AJ Michalka told MTV News.
"It's very different because I think there's a lot more morality in the movie," said Michalka, best known as half of the musical duo Aly & AJ. "I think the fact that the kids [in our movie] realize what they're doing is wrong is good."
The film follows Jacquie (Nehy) and Sarah (Michalka), lifelong friends with the same birthday who for years have planned a combined sweet 16 celebration. Jacquie, however, gets caught up with the popular clique (led by AJ's sister, Alyson), a crowd that values "the wrong things," Nehy said.
"I think that [Jacquie, like the girls on the show], forgets that this is just a party and it's not life. Real life isn't about clothes, fashion and money," she said. "We're not gonna fly to Paris to get a dress. We're trying to show some morals. Money isn't going to get you everywhere."
It's that realization, said castmembers, that allows Jacquie and Sarah to rekindle their friendship, leading to an over-the-top extravaganza they hold ... for charity.
"I think it's very cool [for celebrants] to attach themselves to a charity, to raise money and have donations at the door," Michalka said. "It's really cool — you're having a party but something great is coming out of it."
After several brief rehearsals, Nehy and Michalka shot the scene in which the two friends reconcile in the early-morning clarity of a bright Los Angeles day. Over a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, they decide that they should use their money to help others. A sweet encounter, the scene was perhaps most notable for what surrounded it.
Roughly half a mile behind the girls, who sat on a makeshift bench, was the 5th Street bridge, under which sits an L.A. County prison. Nearby, a tent city had been erected, housing some 40 or 50 semipermanent homeless denizens.
"I'm sure a number of people have died here — I just get that sense," Miller said. "It just makes a sweet 16 look that much more ridiculous, [if it's going on with] a homeless shelter in the back alley and a jail on its left wing."
Wealth surrounded by poverty is quintessential L.A., even if helping others isn't. But that's the message of the film, Nehy said, which is made even more pressing because of the set's surroundings, not in spite of them.
"In the beginning of the film, we shot at these huge mansions, and we were driving Porsches," she recalled. "Now we're here at this beat-up lot with homeless people across the street, and it's nice because the film shows both sides, it ties in. Where you have been blessed and have achieved greatness, there are areas [like this] where you can help people who haven't gotten there yet.
"I think it's a good thing because if MTV only had the TV show, then it would [be putting out this message] that that was the right thing," she concluded. "[Instead] this film shows that this is what you want to reach for."
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