Sunday, August 19, 2007

"Golden Throat, this is Jazz Square. We may have trouble.": High School Musical 2

When Todd asked me to cover High School Musical 2, I think he was expecting something different than I am about to offer. Something snarky, perhaps. Unfortunately, I cannot offer any snark because I am still in a blissful haze filled with visions of dancing teenagers enthusiastically singing manufactured pop songs. Hi, my name is Carrie, I'm 30 years old and I'm a High School Musical junkie.

The media latched on to the High School Musical phenomenon just as fully and quickly as the tweens (and please, shoot me now for even using that word). Considering the cash cow the franchise has become, it's natural that the media would want to dissect the reasons behind its popularity and the implications this will have for the entertainment landscape. The simple fact is, however, that High School Musical's tremendous success shouldn't be such a surprise. Pre-teens and teens are notoriously fanatical. When I was that age, the phenomenon was New Kids on the Block, the next generation drooled over 'N Sync and Backstreet Boys, and so on for as long as teenage boys have been singing songs written for them by middle aged men. The only difference here is that it started out on television, but even that has a history. Let's face it, High School Musical is sort of a modern day Mickey Mouse Club, albeit one with more self-tanner. (Seriously, why is Zac Efron so tan?)

A little refresher on the first installment for the franchise newbies: hottie basketball star Troy and smarty-pants girlfriend Gabriella met-cute over karaoke and quickly fell in like, but were thwarted by their different social circles who wanted them to associate with their own kind and "stick to the status quo," which quickly tore them apart. Through the magic of teamwork and acceptance of others, they overcame their differences and finally got together for good. And then they had hot monkey sex on stage in the middle of the spring musical while the rest of the cast danced around them. Okay, maybe that last part didn't happen. If this was Tree Hill High School Musical it probably would have, set to some bitchin' Dashboard Confessional tunes.

The second movie picks up a few months later in the last moments before summer vacation, and the kids are itching to get out. Once the bell finally rings, they celebrate their freedom with what else? A song! From the opening notes and dance steps of this number, "What Time Is It," it's clear that director Kenny Ortega and the HSM songwriters aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. They have a formula, it works, and they're sticking to it. As the music ends, the next scenes establish the new challenge our Wildcats face: they are growing up, and with college looming and cars to purchase, they need to make some cash over the summer. Lucky for Troy, delicious villain Sharpay has taken a shine to the idea of them as a couple (although it's clear she is only doing this for status purposes and has no real feelings for him) and talks the manager at the country club her parents own into giving him a summer job so she can successfully steal him from Gabriella. Troy, being the idealized nice guy he is, negotiates jobs at the club for the entire Wildcat crew, including Gabriella.

Once they begin their jobs it's clear Sharpay isn't going to make their summer an easy one, especially after she introduces Troy to her father and he takes a shine to our golden boy as well. Soon, Troy is promoted to golf pro and being courted for a basketball scholarship at the local university and doesn't have time for his friends. Sharpay even manages to trick Troy into singing in the country club talent show with her instead of Gabriella, and once she finds out her brother Ryan (the delightful Lucas Grabeel, also seen on Veronica Mars and Smallville) is helping the employees choreograph their own number for the talent show, lobbies to get the employees excluded so only she and Troy will have the spotlight.

Gabriella, tired of being put in second place by Troy and having her and her friends abused by Sharpay, quits her job at the country club and breaks up with Troy in my favorite song of the movie, "Gotta Go My Own Way." Vanessa Hudgens acting is usually a bit weak (can she please stop laughing already?) but she really shines in this number, and honestly, it's just a great pop song. I begrudgingly admit, I might have cried a little bit (both times I watched) when she stands up for herself and, well, pulls a Kelly Taylor and chooses herself over being mistreated. It's a testament to the sensibility of the HSM series that her reasoning is never jealousy over anything happening between Sharpay and Troy, but hurt for being ignored and outrage on behalf of what her friends are going through. She's too secure to succumb to jealousy. Bravo, Gabriella!

Jilted by Gabriella and on the outs with his buddies, Troy takes stock of who he has become and realizes he's a royal ass and has to make things right. Although Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay) tries her best to steal the show this time around, this movie is Zac Efron's to lose and he puts up a hell of a fight, but manages to stay on top. He famously negotiated for the right to sing his own songs for the sequel (the first were voiced by Drew Seely) and is greatly rewarded for his persistence by a catchy Justin Timberlake-esque number here during his epiphany called "Bet on It." It's easy to see why millions of young girls (and plenty of older women as well) love him after his performance here. My only quibble is the monumentally stupid part of the number when Troy longingly peers into his singing reflection in the pond. Man, that was dumb.

In the end, Troy decides he won't sing in the talent show with Sharpay if his friends can't participate as well, and makes the rounds to apologize to everyone he's wronged like a good hero. He even finally agrees to sing with Sharpay because he promised and he doesn't break his promises. Luckily, his friends have a different plan and rush him off to learn a new song (in like 5 minutes, which, WHATEVER) and tell Sharpay she's not singing with him. When Troy gets on stage and starts singing, he hears Gabriella's voice joining him but can't see her, and positively beams when his friends step aside to reveal her in the back of the crowd. This was excessively cheesy, but so damn cute you can't help but smile. The entire gang performs, a good time is had by all, and all transgressions are forgiven, even Sharpay's. Ah, the power of music.

After their final showpiece, the teens go out to celebrate on the golf course and Troy and Gabriella's long-teased kiss finally happens. It's sweet, and I'm sure 10-year-olds love it, but come on. They're teenagers. We know they've been making out like monkeys on crack every second they're alone since they started dating months ago. Everything fades to black and the whole gang comes together again for a final song which I refuse to acknowledge because Zac Efron is wearing such terrible clothes. In his plaid shirt, denim pedal pushers and slip on canvas sneakers he looks like Mary Anne from Gilligan's Island. Not a macho look for our young heartthrob.

In the end, I think the most appealing things about the High School Musical movies are the very thing that bothers so many people: the absolute purity of the proceedings and idealization of the teenage world. Everyone is a good person deep down inside; people who do bad things realize their mistakes, apologize for them, and change accordingly; parents are supportive and non-intrusive. The reason these ideals work here and don't in other cases (i.e., 7th Heaven) is because nothing is done in a preachy manner, and everyone involved in the endeavor obviously believes in what they are doing and puts a lot of care into making it work. Everything about the production is a little larger than life: the colors are a bit more saturated, the performances are just a touch above realistic, the enthusiasm in the choreography and songs are over the top, but all of these things mix together for a beautiful cocktail of joy that can lift the lowest spirits. I love the realism of the teenage adventures in Freaks & Geeks, and the angst of teen love in Dawson's Creek, but sometimes you just want a little slice of teenage idealism in your life, and High School Musical is the perfect place to get it.

Now, my friends, feel free to incessantly mock me in the comments.


Todd said...

I watched, like, an hour of this and didn't hate myself.

I couldn't make it that far in the first one, so that's an accomplishment, I imagine!

Kenny Ortega really knows how to shoot musical sequences, which helps things, and the young cast is mostly competent, which is a good thing on a network that mistakes the cast of Hannah Montana for actors.

I like that Russian piano player girl with the glasses!

page said...

i just got my new rolling stone with zac on the cover. i feel like a dirty old woman but it's a damn sexy picture. slurp. okay, off to jail now, ta!

R. Michael R. said...

I was skeptical at first, but decided to give this movie a try. As soon as the opening credits were over I was in! In like Jin! Feng, that is.

No more war movies or fantasy football for me, from now on it's all HSM2 all the time!

What Time Is It? It's time for High School Musical 3!!!

Carrie said...

Page: Oh, I know how you feel. I had to cover up the magazine on my coffee table with something else because I felt like a perv for looking at it, even inadvertently. It's a fine photo.

RMR: I'm glad you discovered the hypnotic lure of HSM, because by week six when I play you in FFB you will be so far in the clutches of Zac Efron's shiny hair and day-glo tan that I'll mop the floor with your distracted ass. Not that I wasn't going to beat you anyway, this just makes it easier. Viva la HSM! Wanna come over for a HSM 1&2 marathon?

Bianca Reagan said...

I like that Russian piano player girl with the glasses!

I like her, too, Todd! You should have watched the whole thing, and the first one as well. Fun!

I would love to see the One Tree Hill version of High School Musical. It would be so dirty and wrong. Someone get on that!