Walt Disney Pictures
Hannah Montana: The Movie: Be yourself! Well, maybe. Or possibly not. Who's to know, when you're Miley Cyrus either way?
by Mark Blankenship
Hello, my name is Mark, and I saw Hannah Montana: The Movie on its opening day. What choice did I have? I crave pop cultural literacy, so I'm practically required to experience this Miley Cyrus-fronted phenomenon that's dominating box office receipts, music charts, and the hearts of children worldwide.
But as a childless adult, Planet Hannah unsettles me. There among the super-cute outfits and fun choreography, I keep noticing shoddy filmmaking and a sinister sociological message, and it's making me paranoid. Am I the only one who sees the wicked signs?
Wicked signs and many spoilers regarding the undoubtedly shocking plot, after the jump...
(Warning! Many Spoilers Ahead!)
Now don't get me wrong. I love a cheesy movie as much as anyone — I just watched National Treasure on purpose — but I still need a modicum of cinematic flair and storytelling logic. Hannah Montana: The Movie has neither.
Cinematically, director Peter Chelsom even flubs the basics. Super-beautiful Vanessa Williams (playing Miley's publicist) is lit so badly that she looks like a wax corpse, and anytime Miley sings as Hannah Montana (her pop-star alter-ego), the sound mixing makes it impossible to understand her.
But maybe that's for the best. The words we can hear in this movie rarely make sense.
For those who don't know, here's Hannah Montana's premise: Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) was just a Tennessee farmgirl until she realized she could sing. Her father Robby Ray (played by Miley's actual dad, Billy Ray Cyrus) didn't want her to abandon her "normal life" for pop stardom, so he and his daughter moved to Los Angeles and created the ficitional persona of "Hannah Montana." Hannah is now an international superstar, meaning Miley has both a "regular" high school existence and a world full of music videos and red carpets.
I get the appeal of that conceit: It's fun to fantasize that there's another, more glamorous person inside you, and it's comforting to imagine your other self won't destroy your sense of reality. Miley-the-ego keeps Hannah-the-id in check.
I'm also willing to accept that no one notices how much Miley resembles Hannah. Daniel Berendsen's script, however, gets far more ludicrous than that.
For instance, Robby Ray decides Miley has forgotten her Tennessee roots, so he tricks her into getting on a private jet that she thinks is headed to New York, but is actually pointed toward her rural hometown. When she gets off the plane, she's totally shocked.
But wouldn't a glance out the window have tipped her off? Sure, Robby Ray closes the shade on her window, but we can see he doesn't close the shades by the other seats. Does Miley not have eyes?
There are bigger problems, too. The last half of the film focuses on a land developer who wants to turn the farms in Miley's hometown into strip malls. The locals want to stop him, but they just can't raise enough money to buy the land themselves. They feel hopeless until it's suggested that Hannah Montana — whom Miley has confessed she knows — should give a fundraising concert.
The concert works and the farmland is saved (of course), but here's the thing: Where did the money come from? How did this community raise half a million dollars? After all, judging from the crowd Hannah plays for, no one from outside the town even knew she was performing. Did the residents just not believe their hometown was worth saving until a teen idol told them so?
Judging from the movie's subtext, that may be what happened. The most illogical (and most disturbing) plot development lies in Miley's desire to stop being Hannah. She's tired of the lies, and she's ready to see if her hometown (and the world) will accept her for who she is. So at Hannah's fundraising concert, she pulls off her wig, reveals her true identity, and sings a power ballad called "The Climb." It's all very touching and predictable...
... except no one wants her to be Miley. The townspeople actually demand that she become Hannah again. Vanessa Williams screams, "Put on the wig, or you'll never have a normal life!" A little girl promises to love Miley in secret, so long as she doesn't give up her false identity. Several characters insist that children across the world will "lose their dreams" if they find out Hannah is a fake. So Miley listens to them and puts the wig back on. Happy ending.
First of all, has no one noticed that Miley's life is decidedly not normal? Pretending to be someone else all the time is really messed up. Also, why would people be devastated to learn that Hannah Montana isn't real? No one explains this.
As written, the conclusion tells viewers that being yourself is acceptable when you're with a very intimate circle, but otherwise, it's preferable and even honorable to lie about who you are. Hannah Montana: The Movie suggests that we can make people happy by always being who they want us to be, so we should maintain a performance at all costs. What's a little personal integrity when the entire world will be placated by our perpetual public disguise?
It's hard to say if kids will ingest this message, or if they'll just enjoy the songs. But if I ever meet a third grader who insists on being called "Donna Vermont" or "Luke Virgin Islands," then I'm running the other way.
For more, please join Mark Blankenship at The Critical Condition.