In the interest of full disclosure, I should make it known that I have not watched an episode of Glee since the first season. It’s not that I didn’t see the appeal of the show or that I didn’t think it was funny. The show was just maddeningly inconsistent and it jumped back and forth between realistic storylines involving characters that I actually cared about and some occasionally mean spirited and out of place episodes that felt like they were from an entirely different series. Had I been a few years younger, I probably would have forgiven the television version of Glee its problems, but with the theatrical release of the sloppy, but not altogether unenjoyable, cash inGlee: The 3-D Concert Movie the problems of the largely musical based series are brought front and centre once again. The film manages to be wildly uneven despite sticking to the series’ biggest assets: its showstopping musical numbers.
The title of the film is very apt in the same vein as Cowboys & Aliens is. Despite everyone remaining in character throughout the film, there is no plot or story arc to follow. This is very much a concert film, and in those very basic parameters the film almost works. Filmed earlier this summer during a North American tour, the cast of the television show recreated some of their greatest hits (not sung by the original artists) to sold out audiences. The actors are given almost nothing to do other than sing and dance, making this film strictly for the fans. If you had no clue who any of these people were going in, you wouldn’t know very much about them as characters. There are a few misfires (“Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Safety Dance”), but things do get started with a great trio of songs (“Don’t Stop Believing,” “Sing,” and “Empire State of Mind”) that gives hope for the rest of the film. Sadly, the film’s musical numbers peak early with not much of anything exciting to offer after a mid-film mini set by Blaine Anderson (played by Darren Criss) and his own back-up singers. The 3-D enhances the proceedings only slightly and except for the flashbulbs and pyrotechnics is almost unnoticeable at times.
I can’t really say much for the performances in this film since everyone on screen is playing characters that have nothing to do within the context of the film. I will say that everyone has great stage presence, high energy, and a genuine sincerity that sometimes overpowers the fact that they are all obviously lip synching to an overproduced and autotuned recording most of the time. It does, at the best of times, feel like a genuine concert experience, especially for the songs that come at the start of the film. Those hoping for a glimpse of any of the adults from the series will be sorely disappointed. Despite appearing in the trailer for the film, Jane Lynch was cut from the final product and Matthew Morrison’s teacher is completely absent. Those looking for an “adult” on stage (let’s be honest, all of these guys are in their early to mid-20s) will have to settle for Gwyneth Paltrow coming in for a number and ending it by exclaiming that they should all go and get tacos after this. Because she is a Spanish teacher. That’s the joke.
Instead of a plot, the film intercuts the concert footage with three human interest stories of teenagers who have had their lives changed by the television show. These vignettes about a dwarf cheerleader, a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, and a formerly closeted grade eight boy are actually somewhat interesting in the same way that the Star Trek documentary Trekkies was interesting. Director Kevin Tancharoen’s greatest touch is to offer some sort of insight to the cult of the television show and the positivity it can genuinely inspire in its viewers. It is all a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is coming wrapped in what is essentially a marketing opportunity squarely aimed at the already converted. To make matters worse, only the girl with Asperger’s seems to have any real direct strength that she gained from watching the show.
Further contributing to the muddled state of the film is the insistence that Glee appeals to a wide range of viewers despite aiming squarely at the coveted 12-21 demographic. It feels quite odd that Tancharoen’s camera is often falling on middle aged creepers and ironically detached hipsters that seem really out of place. Maybe if there were a wider variety of stories offered the scope of the film would have made a bit more sense. But then again, this is a concert film. The main goal is to get in and out in under an hour and a half. In that respect it is a success.
The sincerity at the heart of Glee shows through, but not enough to overcome the fact that this is sheer assembly line product. It is a concert film and it delivers on its promise, but there is nothing really here to fully justify spending inflated 3-D prices on going to see it. Having said that, I will leave by saying that fans will be happy to know that like many concerts there is an encore hidden away in the credits. If you are into that sort of thing, stick around. You will be treated to the most memorable musical performance in the second half of the film, as well as a video of one of the coolest 4 year olds you might ever see. It is in no way something non-fans should go out of their way to see.
Cast: Dianna Agron, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by: Kevin Tancharoen
Top image: A scene from Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.