Monday, August 20, 2007

Guilty pleasure of the month

The last ‘worthy’ movie I’ve watched must have been the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others (it’s really good, btw), but since then I’ve been unable to get myself to watch anything serious. Let’s review the shows I’ve watched recently: The Painted Veil (ok, that’s semi-worthy…), Transformers, Harry Potter, 200 Pounds Beauty, and this past weekend, The Simpsons. I obviously can’t bear watching anything that requires too much thinking ever since I started writing my thesis.

But there’s one other recent film I’ve watched which I confess to thoroughly, completely enjoying, and completely destroys any remaining credibility I have. Yes, I watched that pop culture tween phenomenon, High School Musical.

If you don’t know what that is, and I bet that all of you do, High School Musical was a Disney Channel Original Movie, conceived as a musical, in a classic modern-day Romeo & Juliet type storyline.Troy and Gabriella - the start of something new! Troy (Zac Elfron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) meet during vacation and discover a mutual passion for singing (and each other). What do you know, Gabriella ends up being the new girl at Troy’s school, where she discovers that they both belong to different cliques. I think that’s all I need to say really, and you can guess the rest.

It became a huge hit, which took everyone, including Disney, by surprise. They had obviously hit a nerve somewhere; for tweens, a reassurance that the world of adolescence isn’t so frightening, for teens, a wish-fulfillment trope, and for anyone older, nostalgia a-plenty for a world that never existed.

I really enjoyed the chemistry between Zac and Gabriella. They had more going for them than plenty of adult romantic leads! The first song, Start of Something New, while bland on its own, was great in the context of the film, setting up the whole premise and extracting a great performance from the two leads. The chorus remains stuck in my head! The middle song, Stick to the Status Quo, is inventive, and I can foresee the final song We’re All in This Together being the type of song that people will sing at high school graduation parties. Tisdale as Sharpay is also gloriously over-the-top.

Let’s get all the usual (and valid) criticisms out of the way first. Sure, it’s formulaic – it’s a Disney Channel movie after all! – with perhaps the only slight variation being that the thing that separates our two leads is not the different cliques they belong to per se, but their desire to break out of their respective cliques. There’s overacting, and Hudgens (otherwise very winsome) is particularly guilty of this during her singing of “When There was Me and You”. Sure, there’s plot holes and convenient resolutions. Sure, the pop ditties are mostly by-the-numbers, catchy but forgettable. Sure, it’s unrealistic, and we’ll get back to this. And sure, the usual gospel of Disney gets proclaimed: “Be true to yourself! Don’t care what other people think! Make your dreams come true!”, although this gospel of non-conformity is undercut by the fact that at the end, if you think about it hard enough, all that happens is that the popular get more popular, and the clique mentality is actually reinforced. People don’t actually escape their station.

In the end though, the whole point of High School Musical is that it’s a complete escapist fantasy, and that’s what Disney excels at. It portrays a high school full of diverse, good-looking people who turn out to be multi-talented, all in a completely wholesome manner which most parents would approve of. Heck, even the villain isn’t so villainous after all. The finale is a huge celebration of school unity, where everyone, of whatever race or talent, wins. We all know there’s no high school that even closely resembles the one being portrayed here, but that doesn’t spoil our fun. I'm loathe to admit it, but HSM does appeal irresistably to my sentimental side.

My favourite lines: "What courage to pursue a note that’s never been accessed in the natural world" and "We need to save our show from people who don't know the difference between a Tony Award and Tony Hawk".

I guess part of the pleasure derived from this film is due to me having always been interested in this whole school clique schmaltz. I enjoy watching the dynamics of it from afar. Not so fun if you’re part of it! The reality on the ground is more complicated of course. I was on my school chess and basketball team (albeit as the 12th man), where do I fit in?

This is a whimsical post, so this feels tacked on, but one final quick thought, the unity here, though heartfelt, is in the end, superficial because the gospel of Disney can’t really provide the long-term foundations to support it. What would true unity look like?

Together, together… (arrrrgh!!!!!)

P/S There is now a sequel, which no doubt will fail to reach the heights of its predecessor and be more calculated to churn out some cash. There is an interesting Newsweek feature on HSM as well which I enjoyed reading.


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Anonymous alwyn said...

Try "Invisible Target" and "Rush Hour 3" - great brain-relaxers, :)

11:43 pm  

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