By any reasonable reckoning, Invisible Sister, the Disney Channel original movie that debuted last Friday, should not have worked at all: they licensed the title of a book and didn’t use any of it; the setup is pure adolescent angst; the “science” is hokey at best; and you wouldn’t believe how many dei can be plucked from a single machina.
Still, I had to watch it, the Invisible Girl having occupied a place in the wackier section of my brain ever since I failed to see one at the age of seven. And I wasn’t that hopeful: younger sister Cleo, desperate to come up with a new science project after being told half a dozen classmates were already doing the same thing, is forced into a rush job, on a night when older sister Molly is partying hearty with her friends — while the parental units are away. How contrived is this? Short version: Cleo’s experiment, complete with test tubes full of mysterious substances, fails spectacularly, and quite inadvertently, Molly comes into contact with some quantity of a random mixture.
The next morning, of course, is Pure Chaos, and Molly, who has classes to attend (her grades are only so-so), social obligations to fulfill, and a lacrosse match in the afternoon, prevails upon Cleo to do something unheard of anywhere outside YA novels: “Be me. Just for today.” It’s Halloween, she’ll be in costume; nobody will ever know. Cleo, your standard-issue Girl Genius, doesn’t believe a word of this, but Molly is nothing if not persuasive.
What sells this, I think, is not so much the plot, which gets thinner and less plausible the farther it goes, or the special effects, which are good enough without being spectacular, but the fact that the sisters’ mutual resentment is utterly believable to anyone who’s ever had a sibling, and stars Paris Berelc and Rowan Blanchard play it for all it’s worth. (Cleo, I think, got the worst of it, simply by having to sit in on her sister’s life.) And by the time they’d had it out with one another once and for all — late at night in a New Orleans cemetery, of all places — they’d won me over. And minor details that would normally have provoked snark — if this is supposed to be New Orleans, it’s the whitest New Orleans that’s ever existed — ceased to matter at that point.
This being a Disney film, everyone lives happily ever after, except for whoever has to clean up the set afterwards. And really, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Yes, it’s tweenage material, polished to a high commercial gloss; but I’ve never been too proud to read YA stories, and I’m not going to start now.