'Glee': Cause for Celebration
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
I'll admit this right off the bat: I'm not a particularly big fan of the FOX television series "Glee," and there are substantial chunks of this motion-picture spin-off of the series that I did not enjoy in the least. And yet I am giving it a five-out-of-five star rating, which to some minds connotes a declaration of cinematic perfection. Well, "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie" is not what I would call a film masterpiece along the lines of "Psycho" or Tarkovsky's "Solaris," or, you know, "Citizen Kane" or "The Godfather Part II," to name just a few of the items in my own personal cinematic pantheon. But it does, I believe, achieve perfection on its own particular terms. The title promises a concert movie, in 3-D, based on the show "Glee," and the film delivers precisely that, in a way that I believe is sure to overjoy fans of the show.
That's at least in part because fans of the show are part of the film's subject. The actual 3-D concert footage, shot, we are told, at the Meadowlands Arena in scenic New Jersey, is interspersed with the personal stories of three ardent "Glee" fans: one a dwarf cheerleader, another a young woman living with Asperger's syndrome, and the third a gay African-American man who was forcibly outed in the eighth grade. Each of them tell their stories about how the show touched them personally, making them feel that it was OK to be different, to be, as one of the more popular songs from the series puts it, a "loser like me." Which is nice, I guess.
The concert stuff is a slightly knottier matter. The actors from the series perform in character, enacting the roles they play on the show onstage as they sing; Lea Michele's goofily diva-esque Rachel belts out Streisand's big "Funny Girl" number "Don't Rain on My Parade" as if Babs herself were out in the audience checking it out. Heather Morris' bad girl Britney muses backstage that she hopes the audience gets an "overwhelming feeling about my boobs, because they look good in 3-D," and this viewer is obliged to admit that her hope was borne out during the performer's rendition of a song by that other Britney. Openly gay character Kurt performs in footwear so unusually striking that it creates the impression that the actor who plays him, Chris Colfer, is, um, gay himself. Although I see from internet search engines that this is an open question or something. Rather more disarming, for this relative stranger to the show, was seeing actor Kevin McHale, who plays the wheelchair-bound Artie, intone "This is my dream" and rise from the wheelchair to, um, bust a move to an old Men Without Hats song. Yeah, that one. For a while I was under the impression that McHale/Artie was the real nonambulatory deal, like my favorite living English-language singer, Robert Wyatt.
If you're familiar with Wyatt, you'll understand that my own personal musical preferences are rather distant from -- if not outrightly at odds with -- those of "Glee," although I do admit an admiration for the project's magpie-like accrual of pop-culture signifiers and button-pushers. A Kurt/Rachel duet of "Get Happy" and "Happy Days Are Here Again" is an apt nod to Judy Garland and the originalist strain of glee-club singing and is kind of nifty. On the other hand, Finn's ballad rendition of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" is an equally apt reminder of the fact that just because something can be done doesn't mean that it should, and the version of Queen's cheekily crass "Fat Bottomed Girls" by Mark Salling's studly Puck is both entirely beside the point and from hunger, as it were.
But these are my personal quibbles. I mean, if I had made this movie, I would have saved Artie's rise from the wheelchair for the end, had him cry, "Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!" and accompanied his song with a montage of mushroom clouds. The actual director of the film clearly knew his job better.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.