[16 August 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s safe to say that Miley Cyrus has had her moment. Those elusive fifteen minutes are up and the time clock toward irrelevancy is carefully ticking down. Sure, the House of Mouse can find a few more ways to milk some additional dollars out of her ever-diminishing fad phenom fanbase, but the truth is, she’s like every other teen (or in this case) tween cause celeb - hot as Hades one day, working the drive-through another.
So it makes sense that after the stunning box office figures for her 3D concert experience, Disney would attempt to continue building on such bank. The result - Hannah Montana: The Movie. As much a set-up for the fourth and final season of the TV series as a way of exposing the fleeting star to the 14 and older crowd, this incredibly mediocre effort actually makes you feel sorry for the dissipating celebrity. Somehow, you sense, for all she’s done for the corporate bottom line, she deserves better than this.
When we first meet Miley/Hannah, she is late for her most recent concert appearance. Later, she has a depressing diva tantrum over a pair of shoes. But when she ruins her best friend Lilly’s birthday party, daddy Robby puts his foot down. He thwarts a planned trip to New York, and instead, puts Hannah (for those who don’t know, the commercial cover for his real life daughter Miley) on a private plane back to their hometown in Tennessee. There, they meet up with grandma, hunky teen farm hand Travis, and equally fetching female foreman Lorelai. When Miley learns that an unscrupulous land developer is trying to buy up her past, she promises to get “Hannah” to put on a concert. In the meantime, a persistent tabloid reporter is trying to uncover the secret shared by both Miley and her far more famous “friend.”
Again, it needs to be said - Miley Cyrus has made the Walt Disney Company so much moolah that she really mandated a better starring vehicle than this. Hannah Montana: The Movie is a lifeless amalgamation of plot contrivances, narrative non-sequitors, and pointless pandering. It’s a wannabe musical that doesn’t have the chutzpah to stop the action and let its actress actually sing! Instead, like a Billboard chart backdrop, Hannah is given a few onstage screeds, while Miley makes nice with a single solo moment (with some help from her pappy). For an audience that wouldn’t know a show-stopper from a slog, it really doesn’t matter. Their favorite TV talent is up on the big screen delivering the sonic dross they can’t get enough of. However, the uninitiated, or uninterested, will find it all very, very dull.
The biggest problem with Hannah Montana: The Movie, is length. There is no need for a film version of this character’s adventures to last longer than four of her TV episodes - especially when we are dealing with a basic “fame is soulless and fleeting” formula. Director Peter Chelsom, still paying penance for the cinematic atrocity that was Town and Country (the Hear My Song filmmaker’s path to redemption is littered with the likeable Serendipity and Shall We Dance? ), has a real flare for physical comedy and the sequences of slapstick tend to work. But since Uncle Walt’s current meal ticket needs moments of reflection and romance, the energy built up is all but depleted. Instead, we find the narrative dragging just to get to the so-called “good” parts.
Movies are also not the best avenue for Cyrus’ limited scope. She is “TV cute”, meaning that film brings out the worst in her chiseled chipmunk look. Certainly she can sing - or at least, the studio technicians who put her voice through various electronic permutations can recreate a certain sense of vocal prowess - but Ms. Cyrus is an incomplete performer. She doesn’t know how to sell cinematic emotion. When Miley wants new boy toy Travis to “jump”, we know what the line is supposed to mean. In her less than capable hands, however, it comes across as blank and unconvincing. Billy Ray has the same basic problem - he’s turned the art of passive geniality into an example of onscreen stasis. We never see the turmoil celebrity is causing either ‘character’. Instead, both serve the story and simply move on.
As for the rest of Hannah Montana: The Movie, its light and empty, cotton candy made out of sugar substitute, not the real sweet deal. There is never a question about saving the small town, and the creative cameos tossed about (Tyra Banks as herself, Barry Bostwick as the button-down land developer) do little to elevate the mood. Fans of the TV series will also be a bit disappointed that go-to guys Oliver and Rico are pushed far off into the background, while Emily Osmet’s Lilly is reduced to a plot device. This is Miley Cyrus’ moment to shine and nothing - not even the hardworking child stars that’ve supported her for the last three years - is going to get in her way. Even Daddy’s potential love story is scuttled for more Hannah histrionics.
The recent Blu-ray release also underscores the Miley-ccentric approach to the production. Chelsom is on hand to explain himself, and while friendly, he seems forced to tow the cunning corporate line (“she’s such a major talent…”). We are also treated to a mass of music videos, a bunch of bloopers, deleted scenes (yep - they actually filmed MORE stuff for this movie) and some additional cast and crew interviews. Oddly enough, the movie itself doesn’t ‘pop’ on the new digital format. Unlike other examples of high definition totally redefining a film, Hannah Montana: The Movie, looks as made-for-TV on the fledgling format as the regular DVD version does.
All of which leaves one with the following question - where does Miley Cyrus go from here? After this final season of Hannah Montana wraps, when another wannabe pop chanteuse takes her place as part of the Disney dynasty, what does this seemingly single-faceted ‘talent’ wind up doing? Does she try for country or pop legitimacy, hoping to find a Kelly Clarkson/Carrie Underwood/American Idol like transformation from product to performer? Or will making millions for her family be enough? Will she simply slip away, coming back every once in a while to introduce a House of Mouse repackaging of her productions. If Daddy Ray is any indication, there will need to be a break, and some biology, before the Cyrus name equals stardom again. One imagines that some saw Hannah Montana: The Movie as Miley Cyrus’ introduction into the big leagues. As it turns out, this may instead be her swansong.