Tonight I finally saw High School Musical 3 in the theatre. I've been trying to coordinate this with a friend from my department for awhile, and finally, we made it (along with four other people - a mom with three kids).
I've been a fan of HSM for awhile now. What I like about these movies is their queerness, a queerness that is unmistakable to even a semi-trained observer. Though the veneer of hetero courtship covers all three films - Troy and Gabriela, after all, are the "stars," - the emphasis of the movies is consistently NOT on their relationship. Troy and Gabriela are incredibly chaste, only really kissing twice in all three films. It's a rated-G movie that still manages to bring a wonderfully queer subtext.
HSM3 pushes that subtext to the forefront. This one is really the Zac Efron show; word on the street is that old Zac was a little too big for his wildcat britches, and had to be paid WELL and catered to for the show to go on. Troy is the star of this film, and - though I am no Zac-maniac - Efron rises to the occasion admirably. There's a genuineness to his scenes that I don't remember from the other movies. He's not just there to be a heartthrob, although I lost track of the number of times he peels off a shirt or two (only once going totally shirtless, and then only seen from the back).
The plotlines, of course, center around the angst of senior year: where to go to school, how to deal with moving away from friends and girlfriends. for Troy, the bigger problem is: how to follow his heart and his dreams when for a very long time, his pushy dad has been pushing him along a certain track? What, exactly, ARE Troy's dreams?
This is not a bad theme, and it rings true for a lot of people well beyond high school. The intermingling of real life with the school's senior musical is a brilliant trick: we never actually see the prom, only the musical's re-creation of it. The senior musical is about senior year, literally, and the two - stage and real life - become twins of each other.
Because at its heart, this is a movie about musicals, and theatre. Sharpay and Ryan's big number comes early on, and shows them paying homage to a number of classical musicals in costume and choreography. The importance of living life in, on and around the stage is paramount to the movie, and it showcases this in an absolutely joyful, unrestrained way.
The girls are the weakest links of the show: Gabriela, Sharpay, the others have weak voices and are bad actors. For Sharpay, this suits her character; for Gabriela, it's simply obnoxious. But the boys in the film are in their absolute glory. Chad (Corbin Bleu) and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) bring it like they haven't before. Chad and Troy do a surprisingly touching (but also pretty damn fierce) "duet" in a junkyard, and they are both amazing. Ryan is made choreographer of the senior musical, and he glows in purple argyles and white fedoras. Ryan is the most obviously queer character in the movie; he is never set into a hetero relationship (nor, alas, is he given a gay relationship). But the movie, I think, is honorable in not compromising on Ryan's gayness; he IS the Gay Drama Boy, a dancing queen, with a massive amount of talent. His talent is respected throughout the films, and Ryan is very rarely made a figure of fun. He's a pansy for sure, but not one we want to laugh at; we LIKE Ryan, and so does everyone else.
The movie's greatest gift is in its shrugging off the restraints of traditional masculinity. There's a broad spectrum of options represented here, all of them viewed as good and right for the characters who choose them. Ryan's pink-plaid-pants flaming choreography is at one end of the spectrum; Troy's dad, the basketball coach who antagonizes the drama teacher in HSM1 and has nothing but contempt for theatre, is the marker of truly butch masculinity. Chad, who sings and dances along with his friends, but not as enthusiastically, and who is a dedicated athlete, hovers at the traditionally butch end of the scale as well. But the others are more ambiguous; there's the basketball guy whose real passion in life is pastry-making. And of course - Troy, who struggles through three films to come to grips with his talents and love of basketball and jock life, AND singing, dancing and theatrical life. He hides his artistic talent, keeping himself "closeted" from his jock dad, but ultimately, Troy has to make a choice to be himself.
Choosing to be yourself, to be who and what you love, is a fundamental in queer activism, no matter how it's couched in theoretical terms. That these movies choose to push this message - one that can often feel terrible cliched and stale in any movie for younger audiences - is made fresh and new and exciting by the fact that being yourself sometimes means being a drama queen. or a masculine, straight boy who loves to sing and dance. And that all of these choices are okay, and that sometimes you don't have to choose: you can be a jock and a dancer.
I feel excited and inspired by this movie; it's full of cheesy highschool cliches, and everytime Gabriela opens her mouth I want to scream. But the junkyard dance, and Troy's big solo, when he has to figure out what he wants (basketball court or stage?) are powerful moments that feel real.
The film ends with graduation, with the characters dancing and singing and whooping it up as wildcats one last time. but part of the lyrics they sing is :
"I Wish My Life Could Feel Like A High School Musical"
and that's really what the movie's all about: making life feel like a musical.