In Hollywood, America’s most beloved shark tank, nothing is more important than staying relevant. Singers can’t just sing; actors can’t just act. You’ve got to quickly become some sort of triple-threat, world-sensation or watch Hollywood unleash the sharks, which will do to you what they did to Aaron Carter (remember him?) or the Jonas Brothers (who?) as soon as their record sales started to fade. You know what they say: What goes up must come down, and all that matters is how entertaining the crash will be.
Naturally, when a television show featuring talented kids comes out of nowhere to become a media and popular phenomenon, something’s got to be done immediately! There are new mountains to climb, new stars to promote, new careers to manage and/or destroy. If the young performers can already sing, dance and act, and they already have their own television show and a monster following of die-hards kids, what’s next, apparently, is a 3-D concert movie, of course.
Pretty much kicking off that trend back in 2008 (along with U2, a band with more staying power but fewer impressionable young devotees able to buy movie tickets with daddy’s money), the Disney Channel’s hottest star, Miley Cyrus, was put on the big screen in her very own Miley Cyrus & Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds Concert. Now, the talented young stars of the hit Fox show Glee take to the stage and screen with Glee: The 3D Concert Movie of their own. Which of these films has enough actual dimension to take our minds off the invisible shark tank waiting backstage, and which, despite the 3-D technology, falls flat? Let the Smackdown begin!
Carrying the show for Glee is Lea Michele, reprising her TV character, Rachel Berry. Michele, the undeniably talented star of Broadway’s Spring Awakening, has a voice that would give even the toughest audience chills. All the student characters from the television series are given time to shine, and between brown-eyed heartthrob Cory Monteith’s rendition of “Jesse’s Girl” and minimally clothed Heather Morris’ Britney Spears cover of “I’m a Slave 4 U,” there’s something for everyone.
The cast members stay in character, playing their familiar high school stereotypes in an over-the-top fashion. We’ve got the dewy-eyed school girl, the jock, the nerd, and the girl who can’t wait to see what her boobs look like in 3-D.
What distinguishes this concert film from others is the amount of pure heart that obviously went into its creation. Between songs, three kids from around the country share stories about what Glee has meant to them in their lives. A girl with Asperger’s Syndrome says she began to overcome her symptoms of social awkwardness after being inspired by her favorite character, Brittany, from the series. A gay teenager, faced with an unwanted coming-out story that caused him to switch schools, says he found solace and understanding in Chris Colfer’s Kurt, a flamboyant fashionista who isn’t afraid to be himself. We even hear from a self-identified dwarf who, thanks partly to the strength she drew from Glee’s message of inclusion, was named prom queen for her senior year of high school.
The Defending Champion
The Best of Both Worlds Concert was filmed at the height of Miley Cyrus’ popularity. She had a hit TV show, she sold out concert venues around the world, and she had already booked roles in other films. Here she attempts to deliver that star power via in-your-face 3-D.
Cyrus’ personality takes center stage even when she’s not performing. We see her interacting, almost as a peer, with her mother and separately with her father, country performer Billy Ray Cyrus, from whom she obviously gets her inflated ego. She plays part of the film as herself, then dons a wig to play Hannah Montana, her character on the long-running Disney show of the same name.
Her performance intercuts with shots of little girls in unkempt Hannah wigs giving us their best renditions of their favorite songs from the tour, and snippets of Miley talking about living her dream. The Jonas Brothers show up to do a song, and we also see a contest called “The High Heel Derby,” in which fathers compete in a foot race wearing their favorite pair of heels for the grand prize of four tickets to a sold-out show. It’s all supposed to be grand, silly fun, but it sometimes comes off as just plain embarrassing. The sight of 40-year-old men in tube socks and heels giving themselves so completely to this endeavor is a little hard to take.
Another highlight comes when a young father, crouching next to his two girls, speaks about what a positive role model Hannah has been for his kids. Good thing he mentioned Hannah and not Miley, who was probably backstage smoking salvia with her band mates at the time. (What — too soon?)
No one ever said running around an extravagant stage complete with crazy lights and occasional pyrotechnics was easy, so it would be a low blow to call attention to the fact that neither Miley nor Hannah can pull it off. But I’ll do it anyway, because that’s how Smackdown rolls. Between belting flat notes that last far too long and whining about love, heartbreak, and whatever else kids are listening to these days, Cyrus can hardly catch her breath. Unfortunately, the thousands of screaming seven-year-old girls don’t drown her out completely.
The whole idea of The Hannah & Miley Concert is a little bit weird to begin with, glorifying the lifestyle of a girl who lives a double life. When Miley puts on her Hannah wig, this unpopular schoolgirl suddenly acquires an entourage of fake friends lining up to catch a glimpse of her. That mindset shapes the direction of the film and the prima donna attitude Cyrus wears on stage and off.
Glee: The 3D Concert Movie gives off a completely different vibe. While Miley dresses in bright colored skirts and sequin outfits, the cast of Glee wears jeans and polo shirts for the majority of the show. Instead of shrieking loudly over the music, Glee fans in the filmed audience were singing along to every song, embracing the music as if it came from their own lives. While Miley is an emblem of the fantasy life we’ve all dreamed about one time or another, the cast of Glee preaches the real-world concepts of love and understanding, regardless of race, gender or sexuality.
Unfortunately, like Cyrus, the Glee cast members are not exactly poster children for reality. Each represents a stereotype so overplayed, that after the initial feelings of community and understanding wear off, they begin to lose their relatability.
So what’s better — a diva glorifying the glitz and glam she thirsts for in her own life? Or a group of theatrical performers, stereotyping what they see as the reality of their audience? Considering only the music, I have to admit that even though I wasn’t too excited about sitting between two groups of shrieking kids at a midnight showing of Glee 3D, as the lights dimmed and Glee‘s signature cover version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” started to play, I couldn’t help but feel the excitement in the room.
Where Hannah and Miley lack the depth to carry the weight of the message they were sending out, one of the Gleeks interviewed onscreen said it best: The cast of Glee “gave a story to the kids who never had a voice,” and to those kids, that has made all the difference. To me too. On both music and message, Glee: The 3D Concert Movie is our winner.