On the Line

  • The Future Subject of an Episode of "Behind the Music" When Lance OD's on Coke, Runs His Corvette Into a Tree, and Officially Hits "Rock Bottom"
  • The Fat One


Directed by...well, who really cares? These things virtually direct themselves.
"Hey man, it's been fun being in your movie and all, Lance, but trust me, you don't want the Reverend hangin' out with your ladies on the road. I guarantee they won't go back, if you know what I mean."

The Idolatry of Innocence

I do not disagree that Al Green possesses supernatural powers, but I was still disheartened to see the good Reverend belt out "Let's Stay Together" while Lance Bass made out with Emmanuelle Chriqui. A more sublime musical moment is Joey Fatone's coverband slashing through "Pour Some Sugar On Me" while Fatone indeed dumps a flip-top container of sugar all over himself. Better yet is Richie Sambora's glorious turn as a floppy-banged, craggily rock curmudgeon named "The Mick," who fields questions from Fatone like, "Where's the passion, man?!" and "What's happened to the music industry?!" Truth be told, On the Line is a predictably terrible movie, but not one that prevented me from having a good time. Dave Foley, of "Kids in the Hall" fame, pulls a Will Ferrell and conjures magic from a nothing role as an uptight ad exec with a religious devotion to foie grass smoothies. And Sammy Sosa challenges Charlie Sheen as the Filmsnobs King of the Weird Cameo when he knocks a foul ball into a peanut vendor's crotch.

Still, my trip to the new 'N Sync vehicle was an educational experience. Last weekend, I mentioned my intention to see this movie to a few Gen X women, each time incurring a venomous wrath: "Don't you make fun of them!" "You leave them alone!" So I settled into the theater with six other late-twenties to early-thirties females, a few of them moms. A curious thing: I had planned on a few moms and their giggling offspring, but this excursion did not require little Ashley and Jennifer. These voracious champions of Boy Band-dom are not Trapper Keeper-wielding pubescents—clearly, more powerful forces are at play.

My only previous experience with the Boy Band phenomena is a brief but intense hatred of Joey McIntyre after my eighth grade girlfriend sat in the third row of a New Kids on the Block concert. Every day for two weeks she wore that godforsaken "Hangin' Tough" tee-shirt, and every day I wanted to smash Joey's pouty lips and pearly smile with a cinder block. I remember the freckles dancing on her skin when she discussed, in pointillist detail, the moves Joey performed during "Girl, Didn't I Blow Your Mind." As I looked around the theater and recalled the young adult women's vehement defenses of 'N Sync, I concluded that even a decade later the perfume of teen idols still lingers—and it's even more pungent than mere nostalgia, I think. This scent drifts across the celluloid of On the Line.

Lance Bass is a model of the androgynous sex appeal of teen idols dating back to David Cassidy. Lance is absolutely non-threatening—in fact, his features resemble a sea nymph from a Waterhouse painting: moonfaced with lively blue eyes. Lance is a mythological embodiment of purity and virginity in a safe, painless package—as with Britney Spears' glorious proclamation of "Saving Herself." For most of us mere mortals, the First Time can be a sloppy, embarrassing, even painful experience. This is not as we imagined it, but it just couldn't be that way with the gentle Lance. So we think back to what should have been, not how it was, and we see Lance and Britney.

And then there's Joey Fatone and his friends. They live in a bachelors apartment in which Lance is an alien visitor from the planet "Scrubbed." Fatone himself is a disturbing union of Matthew Lillard and a defensive lineman from Varsity Blues, spending most of the film as the butt of weight jokes and body odor gags. He farts into the cushions of the couch, scratches his ass a lot, and watches gobs of "Sportscenter"—I get the feeling that the juxtaposition of Joey and Lance is also that of a typical Gen X husband now and what he was imagined to be in college. But Joey gets his redemption in the end because, despite his flatulent fog and beer gut, he's really a romantic guy who'll battle to protect his passion, even if it means making a total ass of himself—a real Gen X husband.

That brings us to the paradox of the Boy Band phenomena: their artificiality illicits real, irrefutable passions. Just try to stop the screams of a zit-faced Lance devotee, or worse yet, face the wrath of an adult 'N Sync fan, and girl, you'll know it's true. Boy Bands are facsimiles of passion, and On the Line presents us with a clever scene of Lance at a copy machine making posters seeking his true love. The copy light shines across his face as the camera ascends overhead, and we see the photo light shining through her image as the smooth rhythm of the machine melds into a generic 'N Sync love song. The scene would have played better if Cameron Crowe had directed it, but I understand the question it begs: What's the difference between the origin of our desire and the replication of it?

On the Line itself is an essay on the nature of Boy Bands. Lance Bass is a commodity of virginity; his appeal is his unabashed innocence. Lance has a Meeting of Fate with a soft, perfumy lass whose boyfriend is a clichéd yuppie who skips the Al Green concert for a business meeting. Lance's Dream Girl isn't given a name until the final minute of the film, freeing the other eighty-nine for you to insert your own fantasy. The whole thing is CUTE!, but Lance can't "Finish the Deal." He decides to put up posters, like he's looking for a lost puppy dog, but we know it's he who is the real puppy dog. The virgin innuendo peaks after his story hits the papers: Lance shows up at the office to muffled laughter and knowing stares, but the women think he's downright adorable. Lance's character is an ad man; his job is selling and designing images. Which is precisely what he does in real life: Boy Bands are living advertisements for the image of themselves. He blankets the town with his image as he pines For Her, and finally she succumbs to his media onslaught. In the serendipity scene, the media bulbs flash as Lance stands forlorn, waiting to be rescued. The scene is played so gently and fluffily that a gust of venilation might blow it right off the screen. Which is precisely the point: She sees through all the hype to see the real Lance, a puppy dog in need of her rescue, an ad man advertising his innocence to her.

But it all makes sense now. I'm fully aware that I've excavated far too much from On the Line, but I don't care. I think I understand the motherly passion for 'N Sync, and I've made my peace with Joey McIntyre. Damn—I can still remember that "Hangin' Tough" shirt tucked into her stone-washed Levi's, tight-rolled to mid-calf, purple and white layers of socks emerging form her white canvas Keds. When she got the purple and white rubber bands on her braces, I seriously considered stepping in front of my school bus.

Our sexuality is confusing and frightening when it's new, and true to the American spirit, there's an industry to capitalize on our need for comfort in a time of crisis. Middle school is a crisis for most, and it makes sense to blanket ourselves in stickers and tee-shirts and the danceable rhythms of commoditized idols rather than face the awkward, tangible, all-too-real fumblings of youth. Apparently, these images are also comforting as we face the life that's not turning out how we expected. On the Line and the whole Boy Band phenomena isn't art—it's too bland to be beautiful, and it's too trapped in cliché to be free, so it doesn't articulate anything profound about love. It does, however, contain some superficial truths in its projection of our fears and desires. It's hard for me to get too upset at On the Line. The young moms giggled joyfully throughout, and they could barely contain their glee when I spoke with them after: "He's soooo hot!" they chortled. I didn't sense that their nostalgic idol worship would cross over into idolatry, so I guess it's OK by me. And if any of you know where I can get a bootlegged copy of Debbie Gibson's Broadway performance in Les Miserables, please email me immediately, no screwing around, at filmsnobs@lycos.com And Hurry! Please!

The Pitch:
Joey McIntyre
Summer Catch
1 On the Line
See It For:

Justin Trying To Talk Lance Into Starting a Bar Fight With Jordan Knight.