BY ANNIE LEVENE
Daily Arts Writer
Published April 12, 2009
“Hannah Montana: The Movie”
At Quality 16 and Showcase
Walt Disney Studios
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1 out of 5 stars
Growing up just isn’t what it used to be. Past generations could look to realistic depictions of adolescent angst in movies like “Pretty in Pink” or TV shows like “My So-Called Life” for lifelike portrayals of teenage life. These teens were moody and flawed (ew, zits) — just like their real-life counterparts.
Nowadays, gritty image of teenage life has been glamorized beyond all recognition. Singers like the Jonas Brothers and Taylor Swift sing about heartbreak and coming-of-age drama, but it’s likely the biggest problem these phenoms face is finding time between fancy vacations and award ceremonies to count their millions of dollars. Likewise, shows like “Gossip Girl” and “90210” flaunt teens with perfect bodies and unlimited cash. These teen idols are hardly relatable figures for the typical awkward teen.
Disney has a history of churning out ready-made “role models” in the form of actors and singers — the “next big thing” with perfect morals and a big old smile. Miley Cyrus is Disney’s go-to girl, and her TV show “Hannah Montana” is crazy-popular with the tweens. In the past few years, Cyrus has gone from daughter of a one-hit wonder Billy Ray Cyrus to singer, actress and, apparently, writer — because there’s nothing the world needs more than the autobiography of a 16-year-old. Cyrus’s success in, well, everything made a big-screen adaptation of her TV show not a question of “if” but “how soon?”
The film, which follows the same general plot as the TV show, is about normal girl Miley Stewart (Cyrus) who happens to live a secret double life as famous pop star Hannah Montana. Complete with a sassy best friend, a wacky older brother and a loving single father, Miley’s life is basically perfect, save the difficulty of managing her famous alter ego. In the film, Miley gets a little too caught up in her fame-loving Hannah mode — cue an over-the-top fight with Tyra Banks regarding shoes — and is shipped off to Tennessee for some good old fashioned country lessons about life.
Much like Cyrus herself, the movie has a shiny fake veneer of perfection. Rarely does the life of Miley (both the character and the starlet) get too serious or too real. While she may struggle with “tough” decisions, like whether to go forward with her Hannah duties or keep a dinner date with a cutie cowboy — allowing for a montage in which Cyrus changes clothing multiple times and annoyingly ruins everyone’s meal — there’s little question everything will work out in the end.
Miley will have her pink bedazzled cake and eat it too. Lest things get too intense, most of the supporting characters in the film serve as mere comic foils, playing for cheap laughs regarding runaway ferrets and bottom-biting alligators. Miley may play pretend when she is Hannah Montana, but her “home life” is hardly more realistic.
The film’s only saving grace is Vanessa Williams (TV’s “Ugly Betty”), who plays into the movie’s campy vibe, projecting some fun into her portrayal of Hannah’s savvy manager. Her snark is the only real humor found in the film apart from the hilarious befuddled faces of confused extras. Cyrus herself, while an OK singer and actress, is unsurprisingly unlikable as Miley. She acts spoiled and selfish, but, in the end, says sorry and all is forgiven — hardly a true-to-life example of teenage rebellion.
The film tries hard to tell audiences that Cyrus is a relatable example of teenage life. Perhaps one just has to walk a mile in her jeweled cowboy boots, but it’s hard to find a connection between the fantasy world of Hannah Montana and the real drama teens face. She might just be a product of a more cosmetic generation of teen idols who celebrate glitz over substance, but the adults behind the production should have known better.