The doorbell rings, and the person on the other side of the door wants money. Possibly the only time you’re happy to reach for your wallet is when that person is wearing a sash.
Girl Scouts have that effect when they come calling to sell Thin Mints, Samoas and Tagalongs. This year, as the organization celebrates its centennial, Hallmark Channel celebrates Girl Scouts with “Smart Cookies” Saturday, Aug. 18.
It’s a sweet film and a bit predictable, but we wouldn’t want a horror movie or a film noir about scouts. There are lessons learned — most of them by adults — and friendships forged.
A real estate office is the launching point for the film, where Lola (Patricia Richardson, “Home Improvement”) is the boss, and Julie (Jessalyn Gilsig, “Glee”) is slated to become the top salesperson of the year. Lola mandates everyone in the office do community service and assigns Julie to lead a scout troop.
“I really liked her because she is an ambitious career person and very understanding and empathic about Jessalyn’s character; she sort of got her,” Richardson says of her character. “I think she is very deliberate in giving her the assignment. My thing is she doesn’t have kids of her own and never had a daughter and views her as being a daughter. As a mentor [Julie] is missing a key humanity point, that little part she is missing and needs.”
Julie needs the Girl Scouts to help even out her life as much as these scouts need a troop leader. When Julie takes over the troop, it is rather woeful. There’s one overzealous scout, Daisy (the excellent Bailee Madison, “Just Go With It”), and a ragtag group of girls. One has felonious instincts, one does not talk, and another has food issues. Julie would much rather be showing houses than dealing with these girls, but she initially must put in 90 days.
Julie does it only because her boss tells her she has to, but once the leader of a rival troop bullies hers, Julie’s competitive spirit rises to the occasion.
It does seem a stretch that only one girl in Julie’s troop is incredibly enthusiastic, as enthusiasm does tend to run in Girl Scouts. And the leader of the other troop, Hazel (Samantha Ferris, “Supernatural”), is just this side of a cartoon character.
“She is one of those women,” Gilsig says of her character, “who has made up her mind before she has experiences but never having actually lived it, which we can all do sometimes.”
Even the scouts describe Julie as high maintenance. But as the film goes on, the cookie sale competition between troops heats up and Julie gets to know the scouts, she evolves.
Julie’s self-discovery is sweet. Though Richardson was never a scout, Gilsig was a Brownie and a Girl Guide in Canada, where she grew up, and she learned how to start a campfire.
“It’s funny,” Gilsig says. “At one point we were talking about one of the things they really wanted was all of the characters would grow and find a way to be comfortable with who they were, but it would come from within. It wasn’t the idea that somebody tells you something. It’s an internal experience that moves you into a more mature or connected kind of experience.”
There is one plot point toward the end that is, at best, poetic license. The girls give their cookie money to someone in need, and it does raise the question as to whether they must turn in their profits. But at least it was for a great cause and not spent on nonsense.
The movie explicitly did not want “a bunch of grown-ups telling children a bunch of platitudes,” Gilsig says. “I can tell you when we were filming it, it was really exciting for me to see these girls on the verge of adolescence, which we all know is such a complicated chapter they were about to start. And to see them be a support for one another — the whole premise of the Girl Scouts is by working together you can find that way to work together.”
As expected, Julie brings the girls together, and as they help one another, they form an unbeatable team.
When Gilsig reflects on the film’s message and what she hopes viewers take from it, she says, “I take it from the perspective of Julie, that it’s about opening your mind. Just when you think you know who you are, a chance something will open you up to an experience at any age. And it happens to the girls and to Julie as well. You kind of get stuck in your ways, and suddenly, how do you know you don’t like it? Last time you did it you were younger and at a different place in your life. You were not completely formed. There is always a possibility of a new chapter and a new dimension to yourself.”