Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: Hannah Montana: The Movie (**)

Directed by Peter Chelsom
Cast: Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus, Lucas Till, Margo Martindale, Jason Earles, Emily Osment, Melora Hardin, Vanessa Williams, Moises Aria, Mitchel Musso, Jared Carter, Peter Gunn, Beau Billingslea, Barry Bostwick, Emily Reaves, Katrine Hagger Smith, Taylor Swift, Jane Carr, Jay DeMarcus, Gary LeVox, Darrell Hammond, JoeDon Rooney, Tyra Banks.
2009--102 minutes
Rated G (nothing objectionable)

"Hannah Montana" is one phenomenon I don't understand. Sure, she's appeared on lunchboxes, flip-flops, coloring books, backpacks, and even children's swimsuits, and it's obvious from the sales of her "Best of Both Worlds" concert film last year that she's as famous as anyone in Hollywood right now. But to what end? The Disney Channel television show is as obvious as they come, an obvious, pandering show in which, if the characters had any sort of intelligence, the problems would be solved by the third episode. The movie that it has spawned is thankfully much better, perhaps because the studio audience has been removed or perhaps because director Peter Chelsom provides a decidedly more cinematic feel. However, when judging "Hannah Montana: The Movie" as a standalone film in itself, the whole enterprise crumbles. Even if the film tells a true and sobering message about the dangers of fame taken too far, the low-brow, mean-spirited sense of humor that marred the series, as well as an insulting and misguided last five minutes, ruins any sort of charm that the individual performances and potential thematic relevance that the movie provides.

The film starts with Miley in the midst of her fame and glory as counterpart Hannah Montana, as she performs "Best of Both Worlds" for a audience made only (as far as I could tell) of screaming pre-teen girls. When a British tabloid reporter sneaks into her backstage tent claiming to be writing a piece on the true identity of Hannah Montana, Miley's agent understandably throws him out of the room. This act, multiplied by her missing both her brother's send-off to college and best friend Lilly's huge Sweet 16 bash, causes father Robbie Ray to force Miley into staying with her grandma in Tennessee for two weeks. Meanwhile, Miley must reconsider her future as Hannah Montana.

"Hannah Montana: The Movie" is, I suppose, just about as good a movie that can be made of the series. It is confidently filmed by Peter Chelsom with a distinct indie feel that would work wonders on anything other than this franchise. Simply put, "Hannah Montana: The Movie" is filled to the gills with the type of humor that I have long grown tired of: pratfalls. There are too many of these to count. One enormously painful sequence has Miley as Hannah participating in a cat fight with Tyra Banks...over shoes. No joke. It's never funny, never cute, and always wrongheaded and somewhat violent. The kids may laugh at the exaggeration, but the parents in the audience may wonder why their kids like this sort of stuff. The movie is basically comprised of scenes playing out with ridiculous and moronic character motivations. None of it makes sense. The Hannah-Tyra fight goes on for too long, as does a scene involving Grandma's favorite plates falling off of a china cabinet and one where Miley switches between personas during both an important dinner and a date with old friend Travis.

Is "Hannah Montana: The Movie" completely worthless? No. The film does touch on some important themes regarding the dangers of fame. Two sequences--one where Travis finds out Hannah's true identity, the other the final performance of "The Climb"--are almost lyrical and certainly better than anything else in the movie. Also, there is a performance of "Hoedown Throwdown" in the middle of the movie that is more fun than any of her other performances. It's this kind of energy that's missing, as the rest of the film is lugubrious and turgidly paced. Miley Cyrus is an energetic performer onstage, but her songs as Hannah are all awfully written. She's much better as herself, where she can belt out songs and be just as good as the next. This is most obvious in the aforementioned climactic performance in a scene that would absolutely be the perfect capper to a misguided and empty franchise. The ideas presented by this sequence are deeper felt than expected, but are followed up by a final five minutes that horridly turns everything on its ear and selfishly reverses everything that the franchise claims to be about.

I can understand young girls gobbling this up as it is the end of a saga (no other word for it), but when a movie ends as hypocritically as this one does, the problem stems beyond "target audiences." The problem I had with "Hannah Montana: The Movie" has nothing to do with my gender or age but with pure movie logic. If the ending had stopped with that performance, it might have been a sobering viewpoint on the end of an era. The five minutes following is a section that ruins any sort of realism that the performance held. It would be tragic for young girls to see their idol quit the very thing that made her famous, but it might also open their eyes to the possibilities of real life. "Hannah Montana: The Movie" fails on this count and it's ashame. This could have been a glorious ending. Instead, it ends with a whimper of sheer audience appeasement instead of a tear.

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