Sunday, November 2, 2008

High School Musical 3: Senior Year ***

Director: Kenny Ortega
Cast: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel
Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, Olesya Rulin, Bart Johnson, Alyson Reed

Following three years of complete media ubiquity "High School Musical" has made it to the silver screen and lo and behold, to the surprise of those unfamiliar with the television films and albums, it makes for a fantastic movie!
Set in East High in Albuquerque, the film jumps straight to the action as we meet or rekindle with Wildcats', the basketball team, captain and school heartthrob/jock Troy (Efron), his girlfriend, the smart, lovable Gabriella (Hudgens) and the rest of the gang including the deliciously wicked diva Sharpay (Tisdale), her brother Ryan (Grabeel), Troy's best friend Chad (Bleu) and the introverted musical composer Kelsi (Rulin) as they approach graduation day.
Most of the plot centers around Troy's decisions regarding his future, as he must choose between his basketball career, following Gabriella or reveal his actual love for performing arts and the possibility of a scholarship at Juilliard.
As all of them face turning point stress, drama teacher Ms. Darbus informs them they will be part of the spring musical which will be based on their experiences as they face the near future.
"We'll call it 'Senior Year'!" she announces, setting the meta mood, which fueled the previous entries in the series and relieves the plot from coming up with an actual musical to be created.
Consequently the musical moments are either inspiration or rehearsal for the final show as well as a sort of show in itself with us as the final audience (who eventually watches the audience watching the show...).
It's like Charlie Kaufman meets Hannah Montana as the explosive, hyper energetic dance and song moments explore teen angst through the eyes of a chaste boy band lyricist.
Being a Disney product the film couldn't be more manufactured and predisposed for massive consume even if it came in a fat free, shiny, plastic wrap.
The songs are catchy but forgettable, the dialogues aren't exactly Shakespeare, yet you can't help but enjoy its sincere need to entertain and even better, not feel as if it should be a guilty pleasure.
Most of this is owed to the cast, especially Efron who, as the reincarnation of Gene Kelly in a boy band member, owns this movie in every single way and perhaps could convince you of anything relying on pure movie star charm.
He is a fantastic dancer and whenever he's onscreen you can not take your eyes off him, if the screenplay wasn't already rooting for him, he'd somehow make his personality win you over.
Grabeel and especially Tisdale often come close to stealing the movie from the star as the Evans siblings.
Gabreel's ability to pull off Ryan's style and personality without recurring to cheap clichés is remarkable. Tisdale on the other side makes an artform out of her bitchy giddiness and in a subplot with a British student (Jemma McKenzie-Brown) gets her very own "All About Eve" moment during which she falls, gets her comeuppance and later shines all over again.
In their showcase number "I Want It All" Gabreel and Tisdale evoke Marilyn Monroe, Bob Fosse and Busby Berkeley as they celebrate the wonder of overachieving celebrity dreams with a production so sleek and perfect that their ability to preserve a sort of joyful innocence is miraculous.
The same can be said for the rest of the film which seems to occur on an alternate universe.
"High School Musical 3" has teenager parties without beer kegs and bongs, tongue-less kisses, boyfriends who sneak into their girlfriend's rooms to take them pizza and absolutely no bullies. The weird part is that the film doesn't even try to pretend we have to believe this, we somehow just do. The energy of the performers is so positive that cynicism isn't even an option.
It's not as if they're performing with a wink and they're not suggesting some sort of nostalgic throwback either.
Their political correctness is part of the appeal and the film's nostalgia only comes in the realization that this might be the last time to get on the bandwagon with these actors.
One in college there is obviously no more high school musical and although the film suggests that a sequel is probable (with McKenzie Brown and Efron redux Matt Prokop in major roles) it's the end of a mini era for fans of the original.
"This is the last time to get it right" sings a commanding Efron during one electric sequence and for talking about the transition from this to other kinds of roles he perhaps couldn't be more right.
It's not by chance that the film ends with a falling curtain, after all it's up to us to deem who of the performers are worthy of following to other projects, but for a bunch of hopeful stars of tomorrow they do put on quite a show.

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