The beautiful, stately star of "16 to Life" is ... Iowa.

This contemporary coming-of-age movie will appeal to anyone who has endured the wanderlust, simple lust and hankerings of youth.

The movie was filmed in McGregor, Marquette and Stone City, Iowa. Screenwriter/director Becky Smith may be based in Los Angeles, but she well understands life along the Mississippi River. (There's a nod to her work on the television series "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" in a cameo by Carson Kressley, a star of that show, who is also one of the associate producers on this film.)

The show begins with a voiceover. Many times, this is a gimmick to encourage audience involvement in a weak plot. Not so here. Smith cleverly uses the voiceover to mock itself when one of the main characters tells it to shut up upon going into the "sweet 16 and never been kissed" routine.

That character is Kate (Hallee Hirsch), who is turning 16 (we follow her through the entire day). She's a smart girl. In fact, she's more well-read than many adults.

Kate works at a food stand on the banks of the Mississippi. She meets all kinds of people there, including a guy whose gaze electrifies her. Kate works with her best friend Darby (Mandy Musgrave) and a cook named Renee (Shiloh Fernandez), a quiet stoner-type of guy. The owner of the shop is Louise (Theresa Russell, "Spiderman III"), who talks with the girls about the possibility - or impossibility - of finding true love.

Kate is having a miserable birthday (in a different fashion from the Molly Ringwald character in the John Hughes classic "Sixteen Candles"). She's unhappy not because people have forgotten it's her birthday but because she yearns to get away from her humdrum life and meet the boy of her dreams.

Smith cleverly uses images from the book Kate is reading to reflect what Kate dreads. Additionally, I'm not sure I can remember a movie in which Iowa, and the part of Iowa along the river especially, looked so beautiful.

It's a smart show about an intelligent girl, the quirky people in her life, and her by-the-river life that will be familiar to everyone in the Quad-Cities.


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