Saturday, June 17, 2006

Movie Review - "High School Musical"

In a lot of ways I've considered this movie the "elephant in the room" where my blog is concerned, given my documented love for The Disney Channel, TV movies, and Billboard chart history, and that
1) This was by far the most successful Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) ever;
2) This was the most successful TV movie on any channel in a long time; and,
3) The soundtrack to this movie holds at least three all time records on the Billboard Hot 100, and has been tearing up the charts.

So, let's get to it, what do I think of the most successful Disney movie ever?

THE FILM: High School Musical
STARRING: Zac Efron, Vannessa Ann Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, and Lucas Graebel
PLOT OUTLINE: Troy, the popular star of his school's basketball team, meets up with brainy nerd Gabriella while they are both at a New Year's Eve party being put on by a ski lodge at which they are both vacationing. They are both roped into doing a karaoke duet, at which they do quite well, surprising themselves. Then, turns out, Gabriella is transferred into Troy's high school (in Albuquerque, NM, probably a first for a teen movie) for the next semester! After some cute scenes with them together, they both secretly, separately, sneak in to the auditions for the winter musical intending to audition. Eventually Troy and Gabriella audition together, and they are called back for the next round of auditions. This does not bode well with Drama club mavens Ryan and Sharpay Evans, a brother and sister team who star in all of the musicals together, and feel threatened by Troy and Gabriella. Plus, Troy is on the basketball team and Gabriella is on the scholastic decatholon team, and everybody is concerned that they are breaking free of their cliques. Indeed, Troy's basketball pals are none too pleased that he is taking an interest in singing, and Gabriella's academic decathalon pals are none too pleased that she is taking an interest in a meathead jock. Unlike usual, since this is a new release and a popular movie, I don't want to spoil the rest of the movie for you, but you can probably guess what happens.

AND THEY ALL LEARNED A VALUABLE LESSON: Down with cliques man! Just be yourself!

THE SONGS: Though they aren't ever going to be considered amazing pop songs, and they wouldn't have been hits apart from the involvement in the film, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music in this movie. I was expecting horrible, and I got passable. Here is a review of the songs in the film:

SONG: "Start of Something New"
REVIEW: Horrible, the exact kind of cheesy generic teen pop I feared from the film. (2/10)

SONG: "Get'cha Head in the Game"
REVIEW: Kind of a hip-hop influenced production style, with phat beats going behind what would normally be considered an ok teen pop song. (6/10)

SONG: "What I've Been Looking For"
REVIEW: The jazzy production of it is horribly cheesy, as it is supposed to be. The simple piano backed version is a good teen pop song, I was very surprised at how I liked it when I heard it, after the previous two songs and the prior horrible version. (7/10)

SONG: "Stick to the Status Quo"
REVIEW: This was my favorite music scene in the movie by far. The song itself is catchy, the kind of cheesy showy crap that should be in a musical. The lyrics are funny, with people from various cliques revealing their embarrassing secrets (e.g., a skater who plays the cello). This was the real standout scene from the movie, in my opinion at least. (8/10)

SONG: "When There Was Me and You"
REVIEW: Treacly pop ballad. Not as bad as I had expected, but not good. (4/10)

SONG: "Bop to the Top"
REVIEW: Very odd and out of place samba type song. I'm tempted to bump it up a couple points due to the sheer WTF factor, but I'll rate it as I see it. (6/10)

SONG: "Breaking Free"
REVIEW: Fairly mediocre, but really catchy teen pop. Serves its purpose, as the supposed showstopper of the film. (7/10)

SONG: "We're All in This Together"
REVIEW: Reminds me of the last song in Grease. That's not good, because I hate Grease (2/10)

THE DIALOGUE: I've never seen a movie that had more examples of horrible and stupid dialogue than this film. There's an entire thread on the IMDB message board dedicated to this, and about 20 lines are named in it, each as stupid as the last. My personal favorite:
"You never missed a practice for three years. Then this girl comes along..." "Dad, THAT GIRL is named Gabriella. And she's very nice"
Maybe you have to see it in context, but I literally laughed out loud at that line. In any event, yeah, the dialogue is bad, and the acting doesn't help it out any.

SO, WHY WAS IT SUCH A HUGE PHENOMENON: You know what, despite everything above, I really liked this movie a lot. And it seems crazy on the surface, because if you ask me about almost any of the individual aspects of the movie (characters, music, dialogue, etc.), I'll say that it was nothing special. But when it all comes together, it just works! I did want to, in the interest of fairness, bring up the acting. Zac Efron and Vanessa Ann Hudgens weren't great, but I thought they were passable. Corbin Blue, previously best known (by me at least) for being the deadweight on "Flight 29 Down" (which I again want to recommend), is a deadweight again in this. Apart from that though, the acting from the supporting characters was good. In particular, Ashey Tisdale as always was/is a great comedic actress (see my review of "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody").
Ultimately, I've decided that I do know what it is that made this movie a phenomenon, and what makes me like it. It's the aesthetic it's going for. Cheesy fun is not something you see a movie shoot for these days, and when you do see a cheesy movie, they often try to punctuate the cheese with serious scenes or straight out comedy. This movie goes all out cheese though, start to finish, with no breathers. It's kind of exhilirating, and just makes it a really, really fun movie. This is the kind of movie where you laugh at some seemingly unintentional humor, and then have to just sit there and wonder "Hey, maybe that's what they were going there, was the unintentional/intentional humor thing." In the end, the movie will put a smile on your face, and that's what matters. Many will decry this movie for being too cheesy, but I really think that's what they are going for. And again, despite all I mentioned above, I really think there's virtually no possible way this movie could have been executed meaningfully better. Not going to change the way you think about the world, but very entertaining.

FINAL RATING: 8/10, same rating I gave to Life-Size, which seems appropriate. Both pick a tone, decide what they are going for, and execute nearly perfectly. It's really satisfying to see it play out. Like that film, not everybody is going to like this one, because not everybody is going to get what it's going for, or they will get what it's going for and they just don't like that kind of thing. But, for all you non stone-hearts out there, RECOMMENDED TO WATCH.

1) "Breaking Free", which jumped from #86 to #4 on the charts in one week, has the all time largest one week leap of all time. It sat at #4 with literally 0 airplay points, entirely from digital downloads. "Getcha Head in the Game" which jumped from #100 to #23 has the second highest leap of all time, and they happend in the same week
2) The soundtrack had 9 songs simultaneously in the top 100 (which is every song on the soundtrack, incidentally), with 5 of those in the top 40. Both of these are records.
All of this happened on the week of February 2nd; on that week 7 songs from the soundtrack debuted at the same time, including the top 4 debuts of the week. The prior week, "Breaking Free" and "Getcha Head in the Game" both debuted at the same time, making Zac Efron the only performer to ever have his first two chart entries enter the chart simultaneously.

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