Lemonade Mouth was based on the eponymous book by Mark Peter Hughes, and the film was directed by Patricia Riggen. One of the producers is none other than Debra Martin Chase, who brought us The Cheetah Girls and Princess Diaries films. As Riggen notes on her website, “Lemonade Mouth has a cult following with kids and teens to this day.” The film was truly different from any DCOMs we’d seen up to 2011. Yes, you might be reminded of High School Musical, as both films take unlikely characters and mold them into star musicians. Both films also tackle the anthropology of high school, with an arts vs. athletics focus. But that theme goes even deeper in Lemonade Mouth, with the students in the movie getting at the blunt truth of which department gets school funding.
The principal of the high school is clearly unappreciative of fine arts, pushing performing and visual arts students into the basement. He prioritizes his athletics program and its Gatorade-esque sponsor. All his practices are called into question thanks to a chance detention meeting among students Mo, Stella, Charlie, Wen, and Olivia. To the music teacher’s delight, these five start making music down the hall from a fateful lemonade machine. We see Olivia (Bridgit Mendler) soar as lead vocalist, and as the band becomes a real project, we get backup and bass from Mo, Stella on guitar, keys by Wen, and Charlie as the drummer.
Each band member deals with their own life issues. Olivia’s dad is in prison, and her mom passed away, so she lives with her grandmother. Even her cat dies in this movie. Mo faces pressure from her father to be perfect in academics and violin. Wen can’t stand his dad’s girlfriend and feels neglected at home. Charlie’s mother has a weird fixation on him being a star soccer player and following in his brother’s footsteps. And Stella feels like an outsider in her brainiac family, ignored at the dinner table as she tries to speak out and be herself.
With the support of their music teacher, these teens practice their craft and discover that they’re really good. In fact, the music in this movie is really good, too! I had forgotten how empowering and electric these songs were. Mo begins to take the lead on some songs, and she really lets loose by performing her music and choreography with confidence. The problem is, her rotten boyfriend tries to steal her spotlight when Lemonade Mouth is up against his own band for a big competition. All the while, the principal is doubling down on his disciplinary actions. Early in the film, he already singled out Stella for her shirt with the message, “QUESTION AUTHORITY.” As Lemonade Mouth questions authority some more, they’re certainly met with resistance.
“Lemonade Mouth” is an interesting band name, but it’s derived from Stella’s run-in with a jock from the rival band. She spews a mouthful of lemonade all over him, so his insult to her becomes the name of the band! Clearly, lemonade is important to this crew. But the principal is having the Mel’s Lemonade machine removed to make more room for his knock-off Gatorade sponsorship. When Stella initiates a sit-in protest against the removal of the vending machine, the entire band lands in jail. When it’s finally time for the big competition, Lemonade Mouth is in sorry shape — Mo is very sick, and Olivia has stage fright. The crowd rallies their favorite band and starts singing “Determinate,” Lemonade Mouth’s biggest hit. And Mo’s ex-boyfriend helps them out on guitar.
After all that, the principal has an opportunity to change his tune about artistic endeavors. Mel, of Mel’s Lemonade, sits by Stella at Wen’s dad’s wedding and is persuaded to make a donation to the school. That money amounts to a brand new performing arts center. It was rewarding to see music finally be taken seriously by the administration. I was a junior in high school when this DCOM first aired, and I honestly haven’t watched it much since then. I’m so glad I revisited this special piece of 2011, and I hope you’ll check it out! The film is a great reminder that you never know what someone is dealing with in their personal life. Also, an unlikely group of friends can effect positive change in society, and we shouldn’t underestimate people.