Let's Discuss: Britney Spears And 'Crossroads' As An Underrated Gem

Crossroads Movie Poster Taryn Manning Mimi Britney Spears Lucy Wagner Zoe Saldana Kit MTV Films
MTV Films / Summit Entertainment

Britney Spears is at a “Crossroads” again. Once more, all eyes are perched in the direction of Spears, a woman who has been in the public eye since she broke into the big time with her debut (debut!) single “...Baby One More Time” at the age of 16. The year was 1999, and Spears had a two-year running start on dominating the millennia. In 2002, she would make her theatrical debut in “Crossroads.”

After dominating the music world, movie stardom seemed ready to beckon too with the release of the road trip movie.  “Crossroads” would have been another gigantic feather in Britney Spears’ already-illustrative hat. If you were not alive in the early 2000s, it is tough to explain how big of a deal Britney Spears was then and is now to those who lived it.

Fortunately, I was one of the millennials alive during that time.

Back in the day, I was blessed to attend Britney Spears’ 2001 tour to support the release of her third studio album, ‘Britney.’ And I can tell you that everything you would expect from seeing her perform live then, was true. Britney Spears is a one-in-a-billion talent that held an entire sports arena rapt in attention. Movie stardom was the only piece missing in her empire.

Step into 2021, and the pop legend’s name has been on everyone’s lips due to her ongoing conservatorship case and her newly public battle to end it (The New Yorker). Following the Hulu/FX documentary “Framing Britney Spears,” Spears’ plight has become the cause cรฉlรจbre of the summer for fans worldwide. But now that the universe is (finally) rethinking how it has approached Spears through the years, it makes me wonder about “Crossroads.”

Is the media ready to say it was wrong about the movie?

Nearly 20 years since its release, are critics and non-critics ready to admit that Britney Spears’ theatrical debut “Crossroads” and Spears’ performance in it are criminally underrated? The movie came out in 2002, and despite its late-night majesty, it has not become a cult classic. That is not a surprising development considering you rarely see it air on TV. 

Nor is it available on the top streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video (for rent, purchase, or for Prime Members), or Hulu. From what I can tell, it is not on HBO Max either. Hence, there is no current ability for “Crossroads” to find a new audience. Nor is there an ability for it to be rewatched by those who have fond memories of it. Thus, condemning the Britney Spears starrer to get lost by the sands of time.

It is a shame on so many fronts.

As of this publication, “Crossroads” currently holds an abysmal 3.6 rating on IMDb, according to 39,000 votes. Critically speaking, Metacritic’s weighted average from 30 critical reviews was 27 out of 100. Personally? I find both scores incredibly hard to accept. The movie is far from worthy of such a meager rating when others are far more deserving. 

Why do I protest? Well, I will just come right out and say it. Directed by Tamra Davis, “Crossroads” is an above-average film, and Britney Spears’ performance in it is not only believable. It is also memorable. I say that having seen it when it first came out and years later. 

Yes, I saw “Crossroads” when it came out in 2002.

As a huge Britney Spears fan then (and one now), excitement was high, and so were expectations. If the movie were a dud, I would say so. But, after watching and rewatching it years later, I would know. If you have forgotten, “Crossroads” is about a trio of friends (Britney Spears, Zoe Saldana, Taryn Manning) who embark on a road trip searching for various things. 

Britney Spears’ scholastic-centric Lucy has a dedicated single dad (Dan Aykroyd), but she has yearned to meet her biological mother, who abandoned the family when Lucy was three years old. So Lucy and mega-popular Kit (Zoe Saldana) decide to join their pregnant classmate Mimi (Taryn Manning) as she heads to Los Angeles for an audition. As shown in the movie’s opening scene, the girls were friends when they were kids.

Cue the high school years.

As the trio grew up, they lost touch as school politics, the social scene, and differing interests pulled them apart. During the night of their high school graduation, the girls dig up their long-ago buried time capsule and reconnect. The estranged friends decide they each have a reason to head out of town. For Lucy, it is finding her biological mother.

So, seeing her opportunity, good girl Lucy decides to embark on the cross-country road trip from Georgia to Los Angeles with Kit and Mimi. It breaks her father’s heart, but teen Lucy thinks she has it all figured out. As “Crossroads” sees the best friends reconnect, they are each faced with adversity they could not have imagined when they started their journey.

In short, life gets real, quickly.

While I disagree with many of Lucy’s decisions during the movie (how she treats her dad), “Crossroads” is pretty honest about how it handles the outcome. After all, future “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes (yes, the Shonda Rhimes) wrote the script based on the concept created by Spears as she told MTV in 2001:

“I talked to [Rhimes] and told her what I wanted the movie to be about, and she elaborated on it[.] It was my little project. When you do a movie, I think you have to be really passionate about it. I was having a lot of offers, but this is something my heart was into.”

In her debut, Britney Spears’ performance in “Crossroads” is not only watchable. It is also good – as in very good. Spears makes Lucy intriguing in an innocent yet earnest way that makes her likable despite her poor decision-making. That Spears holds her own in her debut film is saying something too. Zoe Saldana and Taryn Manning are highly skilled actresses, and they prove it here too.

Thanks to Spears and her co-stars, the movie is memorable.

There are scenes in “Crossroads” that have really stayed with me through the years, especially the one where Lucy meets her birth mother. It is a raw, heartrending, and emotionally visceral scene, as is the one where Lucy shares her response to it. Britney Spears is so vulnerable and authentic in those moments that it is crushing to watch. 

So, why did people supposedly hate “Crossroads” then and possibly hate it now? First, you have to remember that in 2002, Britney Spears, like Taylor Swift years later, was trying to firm up her image. In real life, Spears was trying to be a woman in all of its complex variations: good, feisty, authoritative, sugar, and spice. 

Back then, you were only “good” or “bad.”

As a woman ahead of her time, Britney Spears was trying to break ground, and like every person who has ever paved the way, gotten hit by the media’s cement truck. Unfortunately, conform or get scorned is how the media machine operates, and for those who think it has improved, please take a second to remember Taylor Swift’s journey over the last decade. The media-led backlash against Britney Spears was real.

In 2002, so many people seemed totally against the idea of Britney Spears in a movie, period. My take? They resented that she was a world-famous pop star, and they wanted something to be off-limits to her. Second, Spears could be a singer, dancer, but not an actress. Or at least, not a successful one. 

When someone has it all, they either keep it or have it taken away.

The desire of the media of that time to drag her down in 2002 and in 2021 hypocritically act like they are her biggest fan is mind-boggling. The mainstream press wants it all without really acknowledging how miserably they have failed Britney Spears and others like her, both past and present. “Crossroads” was an extension of Spears, so the media zeroed in to attack.

To memory, most of the attacks against “Crossroads” were due to its labeling as a “chick flick,” which at that time somehow meant a movie was automatically bad. You see, this was an age when any movie made for a female audience was supposedly terrible just because it was made for women.

In truth, “Crossroads” never had a chance.

Add the bias against female-driven content with the desire to “bring Britney Spears down to size,” and you have a recipe for an undeservedly hated-upon film. “Crossroads” is a crucial example of what the “Framing Britney Spears” doc touched on in terms of the media’s ongoing harassment against Spears. They were wrong. Will they ever entirely own up to it? And will they learn from their mistakes? I doubt it. 

If those who have watched the movie genuinely think that it is terrible, they are obviously entitled to their opinion. Personally, I think it is time for “Crossroads” to come to a broader audience via streaming. That way, a new generation of fans can decide if the media’s hate towards it was justified. If Britney Spears is getting a fresh look over, then so should “Crossroads.” It is time.