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Justin Timberlake’s Career Peaked With Disney’s ‘Model Behavior’

“From the superficial stars to the real ones!”

Model Behavior Photo: Disney

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Let me ask you a question: What’s the best piece of work Justin Timberlake has ever done? If you came of age in the ’90s, chances are you’d pick “Bye Bye Bye,” “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” or another hit track from his NSYNC days. Perhaps you regard the “Cry Me a River” music video as the greatest piece of cinema to come out of the early aughts. It could be that you stan hard for his inexplicably capitalized second solo album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. Or maybe “Dick in a Box” is the JT moment you consider most iconic.

I’d understand your reasoning for choosing any of the above. But you’d be wrong.

In fact, Timberlake’s greatest artistic accomplishment is unquestionably his role as fresh-faced male model Jason Sharp in Model Behavior, a 2000 made-for-TV Disney Channel Original Movie about two teenagers who happen to be identical despite sharing not a shred of genetic material. Janine (Maggie Lawson) is a top model, while Alex (also Maggie Lawson) is a dorky high school student who dreams of being a fashion designer. We know she’s dorky because she wears glasses!

The two enter one another’s lives via an improbable meet-cute involving hors d’oeuvres and decide to switch places for a week because Alex has always dreamed of working in the glamorous fashion industry while Janine has always... wanted to try doing homework? Or something?

Anyway, it’s clear from the get-go that Janine (as Alex) has the short end of the stick in this arrangement because Alex (as Janine) gets to 1) have a personal assistant to boss around, 2) have Kathie Lee Gifford as a momager, and 3) date Janine’s sort-of boyfriend, Jason Sharp Justin Timberlake.

We first meet Jason outside a store, where he’s wearing a comically oversized leather jacket and gabbing on his flip phone. To give you an idea of the level of dialogue we’re working with here, below are just a few of the actual lines JT is forced to deliver:

“I swear, all that stuff about you and me turning that island shoot into our own personal Blue Lagoon? That was totally my publicist talking!”

“Sorry about the tight space! My other limo’s in the shop right now.”

“All that’s just tabloid fodder!”

But it gets better: Turns out Jason Sharp doesn’t even want a superstar modeling career! He’s just doing it to raise money for grad school, so he can become — wait for it — an astronomer. “You know, from the superficial stars to the real ones!” he laughs, in what is certainly the movie’s best and also worst joke.

Revisiting Model Behavior almost two decades later, it’s hilarious to see how little chill Disney had about booking JT for his major movie debut. NSYNC’s “Here We Go” plays during the opening credits (real subtle) — and the film’s tagline, “Looks like love is out of sync,” has absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the movie but everything to do with the boy band that made Justin a superstar. Stranger still, although NSYNC split up in 2002, the Disney Channel apparently continued to push the movie as “starring NSYNC’s Justin Timberlake” for years after the fact.

Much like Justin’s recent single, “Filthy,” Model Behavior proved to be polarizing, particularly where the pop star’s performance was concerned. Rotten Tomatoes’ audience reactions — the gauge of any film’s true merit — run the gamut from the overwhelmingly positive (“Justin Timberlake rocks in this movie and is totally hot as well!!”) to the neutral (“I only watched it because of Justin Timberlake! He was okay in this movie!”) to the scathing/vaguely violent (“I wanted to punch Justin Timberlake in the face.”)

Still, Model Behavior — which you can check out for yourself via either VHS or crappy YouTube upload — provided Justin with an entrée into cinema. And considering he went on to star in award-winners like Inside Llewyn Davis and The Social Network, that’s no small feat.

At the very least, it’s certainly a more enjoyable watch than his “Supplies” music video.