Dir: Peter Chelsom. US. 2009. 102 mins.
Part musical, part coming-of-age romance, all cliched, Hannah Montana: The Movie may be largely harmless fluff, but the messages it tries to pass along to its tween audience are so superficially executed that the entire effort can’t help but feel manipulative. Reprising her television role as a successful pop singer who hides out as an ordinary teenage girl, Miley Cyrus has decent vocal chops but not enough charisma to enliven this bag of predictable story elements.
Hannah Montana: The Movie opens in the US on April 10, and the television show’s popularity will certainly bring in a large pre-teen audience. Considering the success of last February’s Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best Of Both Worlds Concert documentary, which collected $71m worldwide in only limited release, expectations for this new Disney film should be high, but its commercial longevity might take some hits from two other tween-geared movies: Monsters Vs. Aliens and the forthcoming Zac Efron comedy 17 Again.
Unhappy that his daughter (Miley Cyrus) is letting her Hannah Montana persona dominate her real life, Robby (Miley’s real-life dad Billy Ray Cyrus) moves Miley back to their Tennessee hometown to reacquaint her with her humble roots. Miley hates the laidback rural surroundings, but her attitude changes when she meets hunky Travis (Till), who doesn’t know that she’s secretly the world-famous Hannah Montana.
Premiering on Disney Channel in March 2006, the Hannah Montana television series became a hit thanks to its clever concept of a regular teenager who happens to have a secret life as a pop star. The producers have described this cinematic adaptation as a ‘superhero movie for girls,’ and the comparison makes sense since, like a film featuring caped crusaders, Hannah Montana The Movie touches on issues of self-empowerment as well as the perks and pitfalls of leading a double life.
Unfortunately, as directed by Peter Chelsom (Funny Bones), the film merely pays lip service to these thematic concerns. Miley’s trip to Tennessee is intended to teach her the value of family and community while illustrating the unimportance of celebrity and material possessions. But because Cyrus doesn’t have much presence, her attempts to show her character’s transition from self-absorbed brat to considerate sweetheart fail to have any resonance. And with the filmmakers treating Miley/Hannah as if she’s hopelessly adorable at all times, she comes off as impossibly spoiled.
The pre-teen crowds probably won’t recognise all the trite story beats going on in Hannah Montana The Movie, but it’s a good bet that their parents will. From the lazy romanticising of the American Heartland as a place of simple folks with homespun charm to the defeat-the-evil-developers third act, Dan Berendsen’s screenplay covers a lot of familiar territory.
Two veteran actresses provide much-needed assistance to the mediocre TV cast, who seem out of their depth here. Melora Hardin is sassy in a meagre part as Robby’s love interest, while Margo Martindale manages to make her role as Miley’s tough-love grandmother authentic.
To be fair, the film’s core audience will simply want to see Miley/Hannah engage in her screwball antics while singing some poppy songs. The antics leave a lot to be desired, but a few of the songs - specifically the rap-meets-country Hoedown Throwdown and the big ballad The Climb - do grab the ear. Early in Hannah Montana: The Movie, Hannah’s publicist advises her that she should ignore distractions and focus on her singing. Considering her limited dramatic range as an actress, Miley Cyrus should heed the same words of wisdom.
Walt Disney Pictures
Dan Berendsen, based on characters created by Michael Poryes and Rich Correll & Barry O’Brien
Billy Ray Cyrus