Rules of Attrachtenberg is a column devoted to examining the unexpectedly, spectacularly diverse filmography of actress Michelle Trachtenberg. Just before starring in Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin and immediately after wrapping the finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Trachtenberg found herself taking on a major studio comedy and arguably her most well known film: Eurotrip.
While it has a couple of cringe-worthy moments as nearly all 2000s sex comedies do, Eurotrip is a fun, harmless movie about a guy realizing his relationship was not remotely what he thought it was and embarking on a journey to Germany on the prospect of being with someone who might actually give a shit about him. Naturally, he brings along his narratively required sex-obsessed best friend. As soon as they get to Europe, they meet up with by all accounts their only female friend, Jenny (Trachtenberg) and her twin brother, Jamie.
Just as dumb as it needs to be, funny when it should be and sincere when it wants to be, Eurotrip might also be the most conscious, self-actualized decision that Trachtenberg ever made in her career.
For her, Eurotrip represented something extremely important: how she wanted to be seen following the end of Buffy. For three years she had been the kid sister on that show and before that she was a child star, known for things like Harriet the Spy and The Adventures of Pete & Pete.
In taking on the role of Jenny, she wanted to be seen as an adult, to even be seen as sexy and to ultimately shed her childhood image once and for all. The great thing about the movie and her role in it is that this is also completely reflected in her character. Because Jenny is their only female friend, Jenny is seen as “just one of the guys.” Whenever she talks about sex or even anything romantic, she gets weird looks—especially from Cooper, who vainly tries to keep up a macho persona at all times—from her friends and literally has to remind them, “I’m a girl.” Because they just don’t see her as such. It’s easily comparable with Trachtenberg’s own reasons for doing the movie, taking ownership of her image to say “Hello, yes, I am a woman.”
Jenny’s journey to prove herself as sexy is mirrored in the actress’s clear attempt to do the same. There are closeup butt shots and slo-mo bikini reveals, all the things you’d expect from a movie of this type, but from an actress that nobody expected to do something like this at the time. It’s a carefully orchestrated statement from someone clearly fed up with their lasting “cutesie” image, desperate to shed it by any means necessary. This is Michelle Trachtenberg using her body to declare war on the kid sidekick mantle she’d been stuck with for so long.
The intent is so clear and so blunt that a scene of Jenny tearing her shirt off on the side of the road and screaming to drivers to look at her breasts just seems incredibly prescient. This more or less kicks off the shift toward the third act when Cooper actually does start seeing Jenny in that way and she then has to start fighting off his advances left and right. She’s so eager to leap into the European party scene—and honestly so eager to get laid—that she almost gets abducted to sea by an Italian man cheating on his wife and winds up drunkenly making out with her own brother. But by the end of the film, she’s able to confidently and bluntly offer Cooper a bit of casual sex on the plane ride home.
Jenny also has an arc throughout Eurotrip of having to confront why she and Jamie are so often referred to as the “worst twins ever.” While they might be siblings, they’re not nearly as close as “movie twins” are always made out to be. They don’t have all that much in common and, at the end of the day, don’t even really know that much about each other. So their trip throughout Europe also becomes about building a bond that, truthfully, they never seem to have really had before.
The fascinating thing about Jenny’s character—and therefore Trachtenberg’s role in the movie itself—is that she gets to simultaneously be a sex symbol and also get moments and entire plot threads that are typically reserved for the guys, largely due to not being the film’s main love interest. She wants to get laid, she has a moment devoted to getting blisteringly high on what she only thinks is a pot brownie, and it’s all very refreshing to see considering that female characters all-too-often find themselves with very little to do in these movies.
In Eurotrip, so many of the characters are the same in the beginning as they are at the end. Even our protagonist, Scotty, though he gets over the illusion that was his relationship and learns to recognize a real good thing instead of imagining a relationship as something it isn’t, is the same hopeless romantic at the end that he’s been from the very first scene. Cooper accepts some semblance of responsibility, but his personality is consistent throughout. Loud, obnoxious, still relentlessly there for his best friend in every scene. Jamie is more-or-less always characterized as a big dork, even if that is repeatedly the thing that gets the other characters out of numerous situations.
Jenny is the only character who really changes, who is fundamentally different at the end than she had been at the beginning. That change largely stems from convincing everyone else to look at her in a new light. She knew who she was and who she wanted to be, but was hindered by the fact that nobody else saw her that way and so she committed to changing that, to making the people around her see her the way that she wanted to be seen. That, above all, is why Eurotrip, for as irreverent and stupid it can be, is a keystone film in Trachtenberg’s career.
It’s not just the Post-Buffy movie, it’s the thing that allowed her to strip herself—no pun intended—of an image that had surrounded her all the way back to Harriet the Spy and a way to remind those who had been familiar with her that she was, in fact, a grownup now. Even if she was barely out of her teens when making this decision, it’s a nonetheless daring choice that allowed her career to open up to a wide variety of roles she might not have been considered for otherwise.