Remember when radio really mattered? Like the time when you called in to wish your BFF a happy birthday and the DJ, like, said her name on the air and OMG?!! Or like when you had to wait three hours for the station to play “Batdance” because it was the only thing missing on your killer mixtape, and you didn’t have any allowance left to buy the cassette single? Or what about that time the mysterious loner dude at your school started the pirate radio station and totally empowered everyone to take charge of their lives? Oh wait, sorry, I’m confusing real life with Pump Up the Volume.
Well, even though CDs are dead and it’s easier to listen to a podcast of your fave show than in real radio time, there’s still something magical about music emanating over the air waves. Sarah Dessen wrote about it in Just Listen, and in 2009, Danielle Joseph created a contemporary, female version of Hard Harry in her novel Shrinking Violet. That book, in turn, was just adapted by Disney for a TV movie, Radio Rebel, which I watched over the weekend. Because I obviously don’t value my time! And so today, I’m pitting the book and the movie against each other in a battle to determine which one deserves a platinum record. So don’t touch that dial!
Title: Shrinking Violet
Author: Danielle Joseph
Teresa is an incredibly shy girl with dreams of becoming a DJ. During the day, she’s a super quiet weirdo, but at night, she comes to life creating imaginary shows with her favorite local Miami rap and hip hop on her laptop. When her stepdad gives her the chance to intern at his radio station, she accepts, and soon, she’s talking on the air with the confidence she never has in real life. But will it be enough to convince her shallow witch of a mother to love Teresa, extra weight and all? Will it be enough to get her crush, Gavin Tam, to notice her? And, most important, will it be enough for Teresa to realize that she’s just as awesome as her radio alter ego, Sweet T?
Title: Radio Rebel
Tara is an incredibly shy girl with dreams of becoming a DJ. During the day, she’s a super quiet weirdo, but at night, she comes to life broadcasting her favorite pop punk Seattle tunes on the internet as Radio Rebel. When her stepdad gives her the chance to take her show to the FM airwaves, she accepts, and soon, she’s inspiring her fellow classmates to embrace their individuality and accept each other. But will her radio success be enough to get her crush, Gavin, to see her as more than a friend? And, most important, will it be enough for Tara to realize that she’s just as awesome as her alter ego, Radio Rebel?
As evidenced by my blatant copy & pasting, the movie alters a few elements of the book’s premise but doesn’t make any huge changes. The biggest difference is the development of Teresa/Tara’s radio show, which takes a while in the book but is already in existence when the movie begins. Also, the book is set in Miami, with an emphasis on rap music by ridiculously named artists like Maltese and PJ Squid, and the movie is set in Seattle, with Disney-friendly pop tunes written by people who got really stoked when Blink-182 reunited. But the only change I actually cared about was the transformation of Teresa’s heinous and unbelievable mom into a nice, make-over obsessed character who isn’t the cause of Tara’s shyness. On the other hand, the movie never really explains WHY Tara is so shy. On the third hand, did I really just spend two hours watching the Disney Channel?
Winner: It certainly wasn’t me.
Teresa (nickname: Tere) is ridiculously, painfully shy. Part of this is due to her overbearing, beyotch of a mother, and the other half is due to her weight issues, which she’s mostly conquered. She loves the shizz out of music but talks about it in completely fake ways. She literally says things like, “Check this tune out. It’s pretty fresh.” (Methinks Danielle Joseph watched a tad too much TRL back in the day.) She’s a sweet girl, but her character felt flat to me, and her sense of humor is… pretty bad. Then again, that seems to be a main qualification for DJs so maybe Tere has a future after all!
Just like in the book, Tara is totally shy. But because this is a Disney Channel movie, Tara is Disney shy, which means she’s basically a cartoon. At one point, she hides behind a refrigerator while another character is talking to her. INSERT LAUGH TRACK. Played by Debby Ryan, who is apparently a Disney celebrity, Tara is really cute and pretty and made it impossible for me to believe that she didn’t have any confidence. That’s like Miley Cyrus playing a nerdy bookworm. “Hey y’all, this Lord of the Rings book is pretty cool!”
I didn’t particularly love Teresa (like, no BFF charms were exchanged) but I found her to be more believable than Tara. The main issue is the Disney School of Acting, which teaches tween actors that, when in doubt, they should widen their eyes, increase the pitch of their voice and then chew the shizz out of the scenery.
Early in the novel, Teresa catches the eye of a cute, semi-goth Asian dude sitting next to her in class. She’s seen him around but never really noticed him before. After they’re assigned to work on a class project together, she starts to fall for his all black wardrobe and punk rock musical taste and love for Stephen King. Gavin is smart, funny and low-key, and I found him to be a realistically attractive high school boy.
For as long as she can remember, Tara’s been in love with Gavin, a peppy white boy in an emo punk band. Gavin is super smiley and nice and BORING AS HELL. And while ten-year-old girls might think he’s cute, he is NOT my idea of sexy. Or hot. Or fine. Or any other synonym for attractive.
Uh, did you see that picture?
Cast of Characters
As previously mentioned, Teresa’s mom is a one dimensional garbage person whose only redeeming quality is her obsession with Mary Kay makeup. (Hello, those pink caddies are still the shizz.) There’s also Rob, Teresa’s stepdad, who is actually pretty sweet, and Audrey, band geek and Teresa’s best friend. The requisite mean girl is Stacy, a popular volleyball player, and then there’s Kayla, the overachiever who Teresa vilifies simply because Kayla works hard to make good grades. WHAT’S SO WRONG WITH THAT?
I swear, Disney crammed in at least 10 more characters just so they could offer roles to every tween that has ever appeared on their channel. Stacy the volleyball player becomes Stacy the preppy mean girl who is really good at pointing at things and speaking in a demanding voice, and Audrey becomes a drama geek who is REALLY INTO DRAMA YOU GUYS. And then there are these two dudes that hang out with Tara and Audrey and spend their time being as obnoxious as possible. I firmly believe that if any Disney character actually attended a real high school, they would have the crap kicked out of them by second period.
Stare at the above picture for two seconds. Then imagine experiencing it for almost two hours.
Je Ne Sais Quoi
I’m a sucker for underdog stories, but this novel really didn’t do it for me. Maybe it was the voice, which felt forced and artificial, or maybe it was all of the cheesy radio speak, which I can’t imagine sounding hip to any teenager. Whatever it was, I never found myself rooting for Teresa. I just wanted her to hurry up and get to college already so she could mingle with her fellow music snobs at the university radio station.
Trying to find je ne sais quoi in a Disney Channel movie is like trying to find meaning in a Rebecca Black song.
Winner: The convenience store in my building, which sold me a bottle of wine so I could actually finish the book and movie.
Based on the tally of the sub-scores, it’s pretty obvious who won this book vs. movie death match. That’s right, our grand champion is… PUMP UP THE VOLUME! Because after reading this book and watching this movie, the only thing I want to do is watch Christian Slater do it better. Now, please excuse me, I’ve gotta go eat my cereal with a fork and do my homework in the dark.