DVD review of musical sensation 'Glee' and Vanessa Hudgens in 'Bandslam'
I've still got a ton of Blu-ray and DVD reviews to catch up on. Don't think I've forgotten. And there's one title in particular that I have gotten a ton of e-mail about since it hit shelves, and I figure it's time to finally go ahead and deal with it head-on.
It doesn't surprise me at all that "Glee" is compulsively watchable TV. "Popular" was far funnier and far smarter than it had to be for the type of high school show that it was, and "Nip/Tuck" was incredibly entertaining trash for the first few years it was on. Ryan Murphy is the common link between the three shows, and "Glee" seems like the perfect expression of all the skill sets that he's been developing from show to show. "Glee" is unapologetically one of the gayest shows on network TV right now, frequently leaping into high camp with no hesitation, and part of what makes the show so immediately appealing to its fans is the unapologetic nature of the characters. It is always difficult to figure out exactly who you are and the best ways to express that, and it is never more difficult than during high school. That's a pressure cooker version of who you are, and if you make it through high school with some shredded dignity intact, you are truly an impressive human being.
"Glee" is High School Writ Large, a bright pop cartoon wish-fulfillment version of high school, with all the soap opera of it turned up waaaaaay loud. One of the most ingenious decisions in the creation of the show was Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester. She is swinging for the fences every time she opens her mouth, and they write her such insane joyous nastiness to play that it really does seem amazing she gets paid for what looks like pure unbridled pleasure. If you're going to have a villain, you should have a great villain, and that's exactly what Sue Sylvester is. She's just plain evil, without hesitation, and when they do add shading to her character, it's never quite the way you think they're going to go. Lynch is the sort of actor who deserves writing like this, and she's been treated well in general so far on film. I think people have been using her well since her breakthrough in "Best In Show," but this feels like the culmination of all of that energy.
The young cast is all very good, very talented, up to the challenge (or not) week to week. If it's a Kurt-heavy week, Chris Colfer can carry it. If they want to crank up the attention on Quinn (Dianna Agron) and Puck (Mark Salling), those two continue to find new facets of their characters to illuminate. Artie (Kevin McHale), Mercedes (Amber Riley), Santana (Naya Rivera), and Brittany (Heather Morris) are all used really well, perfect punctuation to the main storylines. And, yes, Lea Michele manages to make the uber-annoying Rachel into something touching and even occasionally sexy. It's a star turn, and she seems well aware of the role's full potential. I'm impressed at just how gawky-goofy-good Cory Montieth is as Finn, the jock-turned-singer whose awakening is at the heart of the first 13 episodes.
The music is as square as can be, but that's exactly why it works. They use the music that is our shared cultural currency, the most recognizable music there is, and they use it to paint some big broad metaphors and to make external the internal weather of these kids. It's pretty much the same way they used the horror elements in "Buffy," as a way of charting what's going on in the lives of the main characters, and I'd argue that the show is maybe the most successful and well-built high school show since the heyday of "Buffy." If there's ever been a TV show that belongs on Blu-ray, it's "Glee." I think it would be tremendous for the soundtrack and for the cotton candy look of the thing, and I was irritated when they released this half-season box set on DVD only. Now they're prepping the Blu-ray box for the full first season, completely with tons of extras, and that's going to be the collection that will really be worth keeping. In the meantime, "Road To Sectionals" was a nice way to catch up with the phenomenon. I don't think you'll ever be able to call me a "Gleek," but I certainly understand the appeal.
I was more surprised to find that "Bandslam" is actually a charming-if-predictable teen love story about two people (the absurdly cute Vanessa Hudgens and Gaelan Connell) who are brought together in high school by their love of music and a competition called Bandslam. From all the marketing materials, this looks like a crappy plastic "High School Musical" clone, but there's more going on here than that. Todd Graff gives the film a sincere energy that really works, and even the framing device of Will Burton (Connell) narrating the film through the letters he writes to David Bowie pays off in the end. It's a slight little movie, but for anyone who likes this type of thing, it's above-average, and if nothing else, it convinced me that Hudgens might have a shelf life as an actor. Her character is really mannered and phony as written, but she manages to play it in a way that makes sense of what's on the page. The same is true of Aly Michalka... she takes her character and grounds it in a way that suggests real range as a performer. The cast is so good and the direction so feather-light that the film's predictable nature doesn't matter. You're happy to go on the ride because you know it will so well-executed, and it maintains a certain level of quality from start to finish. Again... I'm not saying I'm going to go pick up the soundtrack so I can sing along when I'm driving, but I thought it was a sweet little diversion, and I'm glad I saw it.
I'll have a lot of DVD stuff going up this Memorial Day weekend while I'm relaxing, so you can look forward to a round-up of some recent chick flicks, a fistful of bad behavior, and another edition of Saturday Night At The Movies. Plenty to read, so keep checking back all weekend long.
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