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High School Musical 3: Senior Year Review

Friday, October 24th, 2008

High Musical 3 Poster

High School Musical 3: Senior Year is worth seeing.

It’s not every day that critics see a dark, unredeeming portrait of police corruption and a sunny, spectacular musical within the span of a few hours. But that happened recently to this reviewer thanks to back-to-back screenings of Pride and Glory and High School Musical 3: Senior Year. Interestingly, of the two films I preferred HSM3 even without having seen its made-for-TV predecessors, although it’s unclear if I was so demoralized by Pride and Glory that I would have latched onto any expression of hope or humanity, or if I actually found it genuinely entertaining. But in either case, the third installment in Disney’s cash-cow musical series is a colorful and enthusiastic – if not especially intelligent – film that makes a successful transition to the big screen thanks to some terrific production numbers and the irresistible charisma of its ensemble cast.

Zac Efron (Hairspray) plays Troy Bolton, a star player on East High School’s basketball team who gets recruited to star in a musical, the theme of which is Senior Year. Troy’s college plans are secure thanks to a basketball scholarship at a local university, but his girlfriend Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) is headed for Stanford, leaving their relationship in limbo. In the meantime, Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) conspires to take over Gabriella’s role in the production so she can win a scholarship to Julliard, and enlists her twin brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) to court writer-composer Kelsi (Oleysa Rulin) and win her support. As his friends weigh in with their opinions and his parents conspire to help him make a decision, Troy must ultimately decide what is most important to him – his basketball career, his burgeoning passion for musical theater, or his love for his girlfriend Gabriella – as Senior Year, and his senior year, comes to a triumphant close.

One of my colleagues recently defended the overly critical or even dismissive point of view that many reviewers will take with pre-fab entertainment like High School Musical 3, saying there’s no reason that any movie can’t be good no matter how low the bar is set for it to be considered a success. He’s right – any generic or clichéd story can still be well done – but there is also an argument that can be mounted, especially for films like this one, that traditional (i.e. adult) critics are not its designated audience. As such, the same standards that would be applied to, say, There Will Be Blood, cannot be applied to it. Additionally, a movie like this isn’t meant to be good for the reasons that we would usually consider when watching other films. So when it does execute moments poorly, it’s tough to be quite as critical – unless, of course, one was expecting to dislike it in the first place. (In which case, why see the film at all?)

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