Saturday, October 25, 2008

This was the last time to get it right...so did they?

High School Musical 3: Senior Year | rel. 2008 | dir. Kenny Ortega

Currently, a part of me wants to criticize the energetic, bubbly optimism of the obviously Disney-imagined world of East High. High school is sort of the purgatory of my life right now--I will not stand for any silly, fallacious accounts of it! Unfortunately, throughout my viewing of High School Musical 3: Senior Year, I failed to realize that I just paid ten bucks for a complete cheese fest--maybe because energetic, bubbly optimism is just as contagious as the common cold.

I felt completely "in the moment" when I watched High School Musical 3. When the Disney logo came on and Zac Efron's sweaty face (and gorgeous blue eyes) filled the screen, the audience went crazy. This was the first time I ever experienced a viewing experience when the audience reacted so strongly at everything on screen. They clapped at the end of almost every single musical number ("I Want It All" and "The Boys Are Back" received a loud, approving cheer from the crowds), went soft for every Troy and Gabrielle moment, swooned at Zac Efron every time he showed up, and laughed at every comedic moment--oh, the sweet sounds of both intentional and unintentional laughter!

Normally, I like to sink into my seat in a dark, silenced theater with only the screen blaring the sounds, but I don't think I would have had such a fun time without such an enthusiastic bunch around me. Never underestimate the power of an fantastic audience. Who knew middle-aged parents, pre-teen girls, teenage boys who have crushes on Vanessa Hudgens, and elderly couples would make such wonderful company? Honestly, I can't think of a better way to spend a Friday evening.

But even if I didn't have the company of such an energetic audience, the film itself has enough energy to last. The majority seems to agree that High School Musical 3 is infinitely better than it has to be--and once in a while, the general public is right. For starters, it is much better than its predecessors--by miles.

High School Musical 3 is every bit the predictable fluff that I expected it to be. But I never expected to be genuinely entertained and charmed by the shallow (but undeniably good-intentioned and G-rated) teen conflicts, the cast, and of course, the extravagant musical numbers. In short, I came out of the theater humming the tunes and feeling rather touched by the film's finale. Let's just say that if I were a pre-teen girl, High School Musical 3 would have set some unrealistic expectations for my future high school career.

The thin plot of High School Musical 3 is nothing but a slice of a high school fantasy. For one, the first scene concludes with the East High Wildcats winning their championship basketball game, set to the cool and catchy "Now or Never." While they may have won their championship game, the senior Wilcats at East High are uncertain about (what else?) their future. For jock Troy Bolton (Efron), he has to decide to pursue either basketball with his BFF Chad (Corbin Bleu) at his father's alma mater University of Alberquerque or consider Julliard as a possibility, where he can pursue his love for the stage. Besides, Troy's (supposedly) genius girlfriend, Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) already has her sights set on Stanford University.

Can Troy have basketball, theater, and the love of his life in one accessible package? Just use a single brain cell and you might come up with the correct answer after all... But this fun journey of teenage self-discovery is worth it.

Of course, the delightful journey includes the prom, the musical spring musical, and graduation! (Where are the tests? Finals? AP exams? Oh right, I forgot, this is high school in an alternative universe.) The senior class is staging a spring musical that chronicles their time in high school. Where there is a show, Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) is there to steal it. Her scheme? Oh, not at all as impressive as her raging antagonism in High School Musical 2, but still pretty darn conniving: She demands her twin brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) to steal Kelsi's (Oleysia Rulin) best songs, which are usually written for Troy and Gabriella. Plus, Sharpay never minds causing some friction in the relationship between Troy and Gabriella. This time around, she has recruited the help of British transfer student by the name of Tiara Gold (Jemma McKenzie-Browne). But once again, Tisdale proves that Sharpay is the drama queen to beat.

I couldn't wipe off the goofy smile on my face the entire time.

The inspirations for the musical span several decades: There are touches of classic Hollywood and eighties-MTV in these Disney-glossed tunes on the High School Musical 3 soundtrack--in a good way. I've always been a fan of catchy Disney tunes (however nasally they may sound) and High School Musical 3 has one of the most mind-blowing Disney soundtrack that I have heard in a while. (Yes, mind-blowing.) All the songs are made of pure win--even the lesser ones. I was busting a move in my seat like an insane maniac: "Now or Never," "The Boys Are Back," "Scream," "Right Here, Right Now," and "I Want It All" really got me moving to the beat. Nothing makes me happier than fun, catchy pop tunes. The impressive choreography (especially in "The Boys Are Back") and higher-budget set designs are a sensational plus. Director Kenny Ortega never seems to shy away from an occasional comical flair.

The returning cast can all sing and dance well. But the film belongs to the major characters, and rightfully so!

There is no arguing that Sharpay is a stereotypical villain, but Tisdale constantly makes Sharpay something more. Sharpay's grand entrance into a typical East High morning contains as much unspoken drama as the character herself. But Tisdale's moment of glory is in the face of defeat. The audience wants to see Sharpay get back up again and when she does, we cheer for her--thanks to Tisdale--because she is every bit as vulnerable and human as the rest of us.

After several months doubting Efron's acting talent, I want to issue an apology: Efron is the true star of this film. Finally, a young actor worshiped by pre-teen girls (and many others) who can act, sing, and dance! Efron possesses a certain kind of genuine charm as Troy. The awkward teenage boy and troubled jerk from the previous films are no longer there. All that there is left is a sympathetic, all-around nice guy who just can't decide which path he wants to take in life. Efron's performance is the crux of the film; it's the kind of performance that convinces me that Hudgens's unapologetic blandness is pretty darn close to irresistible sweetness.

I can safely say that I spied an ounce of chemistry between Efron and Hudgens. I've been waiting for this moment to happen for a while... How essential, since this is a romance.

As much as I enjoyed High School Musical 3, the film isn't without flaws. There are moments thorughout the film that feels somewhat rushed. Some of the musical numbers--as amazing as they are--still have some room for perfection. The transitions still have a bit of an awkward made-for-TV quality--something they should have left out when they switched to widescreen. The three freshmen who are supposedly taking over our beloved class of 2008 in an upcoming High School Musical 4 are weak and uninteresting. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Tiara, Jimmie, and Justin!) And like any filmgoer, I would have appreciated a little more conflict.

Calling High School Musical 3 cheesy or predictable isn't much of a criticism. In fact, it's almost a compliment since it must have been exactly what the film was aiming for. But it's perfectly cheesy and predictable--and that is, by the way, the compliment of a highest order I can give to such a film. The film is about 112 minutes long, but it is probably one of the fastest 112 minutes of my life. High School Musical 3 may be a cavity-inducing Valentine for its core audience, but it also ceased all rain and thunder in my life that Friday evening. Being a teenager who just recently discovered that her entire future may unfold at any moment, I related to the premise of High School Musical 3. Like Sharpay, I want it all. But fortunately, I sat through a movie that almost has it all.

Rating: 8.5/10

8 comments:

  1. All my plans to see this this weekend have fallen through, but I still am dying to see and it and I will see it by next weekend. I CANNOT wait =) Brilliant write up! So stoked.

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  2. I agree with everything you said here. I wanted to rip into this movie the way I had with the first two, but it was actually a good movie this time. I don't know how that happened, but I'm glad that it did.

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  3. While I cannot share you sentiments for High School Musical 3 Marcy, I am very glad you aren't a film snob and just snubbing off something that you honestly enjoy and have perfectly explainable reasons for enjoying it. I happen to think this can be a good film for a certain audience, but I don't think 21 year old guys(such as myself) are that core audience. Just glad you are an honest and mature film critic to give true and real criticism, rather than writing something off although you enjoyed it, just because it isn't the popular opinion.

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  4. As a teen I love and vote 10 out of ten. So romantic music provided and it was the perfect dating movie for me and my girl friend I thought. Though I see it online with free movies using http://www.80millionmoviesfree.com. After that went to cinema wow it was the movie we remember for long time. Waiting for another series of it will it be…

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  5. Shawn, HSM3 currently has a (surprising) 67% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is the box office champ for two weeks in a row. I guess in a way, my opinion is the popular opinion, haha. Besides, my life would be terrible if I couldn't openly admit my adoration for a film.

    You're right, though. Films like HSM3 is aimed at a specific demographic. I happen to somewhat fit into the demographic.

    So I'm guessing you're never going to take a chance on the HSM franchise? :)

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  6. i just read your great review. although, i will prbably not see the movie - maybe on cable if i remember - i was very impressed with with your perceptive and thoughtful take on it.

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  7. Richard - I'm glad you liked the review. But HSM3 is worth viewing. I guess my adoration for the film is mostly because it reflects where I am in my life right now and how I feel about the future.

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